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Diana Leafe Christian 

Foreword bv Patch Adams 

Advance Praise for Creating a Life Together 

Before aspiring community builders hold their first meeting, confront their first realtor, 
or drive their first nail, they must buy this essential book: it will improve their chances for 
success immensely and will certainly save them money time, and heartbreak. In her friendly 
but firm (and occasionally funny) way, Diana Christian proffers an astonishing wealth 
of practical information and sensible, field-tested advice. 

— Ernest Callenbach, author, Ecotopia and Ecotopia Emerging 

Wow! The newest, most comprehensive bible for builders of intentional 
communities. Covers every aspect with vital information and dozens of examples of 

how successful communities faced the challenges and created their shared lives 
out of their visions. The cautionary tales of sadder experiences and how communities 
fail, will help in avoiding the pitfalls. Not since I wrote the Foreword to Ingrid Komar's 
Living the Dream (1983), which documented the Twin Oaks community, 
have I seen a more useful and inspiring book on this topic. 

— Hazel Henderson, author Creating Alternative Futures and Politics of the Solar Age. 

A really valuable resource for anyone thinking about intentional community. 
I wish I had it years ago. 

— Starhawk, author of Webs of Power, The Spiral Dance, and 
The Fifth Sacred Thing, and long-time community member. 

Every potential ecovillager should read it. This book will be an essential guide 
and manual for the many Permaculture graduates who live in 
communities or design for them. 

Bill Mollison, cofounder of the permaculture movement, and author, 
Permaculture: A Designer's Manual 

Creating a new culture of living peacefully with each other and the planet is our 
number one need — and this is the right book at the right time. Creating a Life Together 
will help community founders avoid fatal mistakes. I can't wait to tell people about it. 

■ Hildur Jackson, cofounder, Global Ecovillage Network (GEN); co-editor, 
Ecovillage Living: Restoring the Earth and Her People 

Creating a Life Together is a comprehensive, engaging, practical, well-organized, and 
thoroughly digestible labor of love. Hopefully scores of wannabe community founders 
and seekers will discover it before they launch their quest for community, and avoid the 
senseless and sometimes painful lessons that come from trying to reinvent the wheel. This 
book is a gift to humanity — helping to move forward the elusive quest for community, 
fueling a quantum leap towards a fulfilling, just, and sustainable future. 

— Geoph Kozeny, producer/ editor of video documentary, 
"Visions of Utopia: Experiments in Sustainable Culture" 

While anyone can build a village, a subdivision, or a housing development, 
the challenge is filling it with people who can get along, who can reach agreements, 
and who can achieve far more together than they ever could alone. If your 
aspiring ecovillage or intentional community gets even this far — and this 
awesome book will show you how — then maybe you have a realistic chance 
of living sustainably and, by example, of changing the world. My appreciation 
grows daily for this thorough, practical, and engaging guide. 

— Albert Bates, Director, Ecovillage Training Center, and International 
Secretary, Ecovillage Network of the Americas. 

Developing a successful community requires a special blend of vision and 
practicality woven together with wisdom. Consider this book a marvelous mirror. 
If the abundant, experience-based, practicality in this book delights you then you probably 
have the wisdom to realize your vision. 

— Robert Gilman, founding editor of In Context, A Quarterly of Humane 
Sustainable Culture, and author of Ecovillages And Sustainable Communities 

So many well intended communities fail because they don't even know the questions 
to ask, let alone where to find answers. This book offers a wealth of detailed information 
that will help guide communities to finding what is right for their specific situation, 
and greatly increase their odds of their success. 

— Kathryn McCamant, Cohousing resident, architect, and project manager, 

and Author of Cohousing 

Intentional Communities 

Diana Leafe Christian 

Foreword by Patch Adams 

New Society Publishers 

Cataloguing in Publication Data: 

A catalog record for this publication is available from the National Library of Canada. 

Copyright © 2003 by Diana Leafe Christtian. 
All rights reserved. 

Cover design by Diane Mcintosh. Cover art by Sally A. Sellers, detail from "Family in B-flat" (1998) hand-dyed, 
hand painted and commercial cottons 45" x 81." Illustrations by Jacob Stevens. 

Printed in Canada by Friesens, Second Printing, July 2004. 

New Society Publishers acknowledges the support of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing 
Industry Development Program (BPIDP) for our publishing activities. 

Paperback ISBN: 0-86571-471-1 

Inquiries regarding requests to reprint all or part of Creating a Life Together should be addressed to New Society 
Publishers at the address below. 

To order directly from the publishers, please add $4.50 shipping to the price of the first copy, and $1.00 for each 
additional copy (plus GST in Canada). Send check or money order to: 

New Society Publishers 

P.O. Box 189, Gabriola Island, BC V0R 1X0, Canada 

New Society Publishers' mission is to publish books that contribute in fundamental ways to building an ecologi- 
cally sustainable and just society, and to do so with the least possible impact on the environment, in a manner 
that models this vision. We are committed to doing this not just through education, but through action. We are 
acting on our commitment to the world's remaining ancient forests by phasing out our paper supply from ancient 
forests worldwide. This book is one step towards ending global deforestation and climate change. It is printed on 
acid-free paper that is 100% old growth forest-free (100% post-consumer recycled), processed chlorine free, and 
printed with vegetable based, low VOC inks. For further information, or to browse our full list of books and pur- 
chase securely, visit our website at: 



For my friend At Raschefor helping make this book possible, 
and for my mother Rosetta Nefffor abiding loyalty, good humor, 
and every kind of support. 

Table of Contents 

Acknowledgments ........................................................................... xi 

Foreword - By Patch Adams ................................................................. xii 

Introduction: Creating a Life Together xv 

The Successful Ten Percent xv 

What Are Intentional Communities and Ecovillages? xvi 

Cohousing Communities .................................................................... xvii 

Why Now? ................................................................................ xvii 

What You'll Learn Here xviii 

Is this Information Really Necessary? xix 

Is this Advice "Corporate"? ................................................................... xix 

How to Use this Book ....................................................................... xx 


Chapter 1: The Successful Ten Percent - and Why Ninety Percent Fail .......... ... 2 

Lost Valley - How One Group Did It .......................................................... 3 

What Works, What Doesn't Work? 4 

The Successful Ten Percent 5 

Why Ninety Percent Fail ...................................................................... 6 

"Structural Conflict" - And Six Ways to Reduce It ............................................... 7 

What Will it Cost? 9 

How Long Does it Take? ..................................................................... 10 

How Many People do You Need? ................. ..... ..... 10 

Chapter 2: Your Role as Founder 14 

What Kind of Person Founds a Community? ................................................... 15 

What Else You'll Need 16 

"If Only I Had Known!" 18 

Chapter 3: Getting Off to a Good Start 20 

Don't Run Out and Buy Land - Yet ........................................................... 22 

When You Already Own the Property ......................................................... 23 

Organizing Your Group ...................................................................... 24 

Getting Real about Finances .................................................................. 29 

Collecting Funds 31 


Raising Money from Suppporters ............................................................. 31 

Attracting and Integrating New Members 32 

Creating "Community Glue" .................................................................. 33 

Pioneers, Settlers, and the Flow of Members .................................................... 34 

Chapter 4: Community Vision - What It Is, Why You Need It .......... ......... 35 

Sound a Clear Note ......................................................................... 36 

Elements of a Community's Vision 37 

Your Vision Documents and Vision Statements ................................................. 38 

Do it First 40 

Chapter 5: Creating Vision Documents 42 

More Than One Vision? ..................................................................... 43 

A Sacred Time 45 

"That's Not Community!" - Hidden Expectations and Structural Conflict .......................... 45 

Exploring the Territory ...................................................................... 47 

Sharing from the Heart 52 

Writing it Down ............................................................................ 53 

Chapter 6: Power, Decision-making, and Governance 55 

Power - The Ability to Influence 55 

Focused Power, Widespread Power ............................................................ 56 

How Consensus Works 56 

What You Need to Make Consensus Work ..................................................... 58 

"Pseudoconsensus" and Structural Conflict ..................................................... 60 

Agreement Seeking - When You Don't Want to use Full Consensus ............................... 62 

Multi-winner Voting 62 

Community Governance - Spreading Power Widely 63 

More than One Form of Decision Making? ..................................................... 63 

What Decision-making Method Should You Use? ............................................... 65 


Chapter 7: Agreements & Policies: "Good Documents Make Good Friends" 68 

Remembering Things Differently ............................................................. 69 

Giving Yourselves Every Chance of Success ..................................................... 70 


Your Community's Agreements and Policies 71 

Abundant Dawn's Agreements 73 

Chapter 8: Making It Real: Establishing Your Legal Entity 75 

Why You Need a Legal Entity - Before Buying Your Property .................................... 75 

Using a Lawyer ............................................................................. 76 

Finding the Right Lawyer .................................................................... 78 

Chapter 9: The Great Land-Buying Adventure ......................... ......... 80 

Legal Barriers to Sustainable Development 80 

Shopping for Counties - Zoning Regulations, Building Codes, Sustainable Homesteads, and Jobs 82 

The Proactive Land Search ................................................................... 84 

Friendly Loans from Friends and Family 85 

Onerous Owner-financing (Better than None at All) 86 

Do-it- Yourself Refinancing with a"Shoe Box Bank" .............................................. 90 

When One Person Buys the Property .......................................................... 91 

Acquiring Fully Developed "Turn Key" Property - Confidence, Persistence, and Negotiation 92 

If at First You Don't Succeed ... 95 

Chapter 10: Finding the Right Property 99 

Choosing Your Site Criteria .................................................................. 99 

How Much Land Do You Want? 99 

Raw Land - Lower Initial Cost, Years of Effort 100 

Developed Land - Electricity, Toilets, and Showers .... ......... ............. ....... 101 

Fully Developed Turn-key Property - Move Right In (With a Big Financial Bite) ................... 102 

Buying Property Like the Professionals Do 103 

Conducting the Search - On Your Own or with a Real Estate Agent 108 

Investigating Likely Properties 109 

Taking Property Off the Market While You do Further Research ................................. 112 

Chapter 11: Neighbors and Zoning 114 

How Zoning Issues can Impact Community Plans ............................................. 114 

Zoning Issues and Your Property 116 

Gambling with Former Use Permits 118 

Seeking a Zoning Exception ................................................................. 119 

Negotiating for What You Want .......................................... ........... 121 

Zoning Exceptions, Neighbors, and Public Hearings 122 

Chapter 12: Financing Your Property (Loans You Can Live With) 126 

About "Renting Money" - What You Should Know 126 


Private Financing 

When One Member Buys the Property ............ 

Protecting Your Sole Owner with a Triple Net Lease 
Owner Financing ............................... 

Bank Financing ................................. 

Drawing on the Cohousing Model ................ 

What about Grants and Donations? ............... 

Refinancing Your Property ....................... 

Chapter 13: Developing Sustainable Human Settlements . 
Earthaven's Development Process ........... 

Listening to your Land .................... 

Creating your Site Plan Yourselves .......... 

Avoiding "Urban Refugee" Syndrome ........ 

Creating Privacy in the Midst of Community . 
Designing for Conviviality 

Chapter 14: Internal Community Finances (Can We Afford to Live There?) 
Rural Communities — How Will your Members Make a Living? ......... 

The Risks of Community Businesses ..... 

Keeping Member Assessments Affordable 

Joining Fees 

Housing Arrangements ................ 

Site Lease Fees and the Debt Load ...... 

Labor Requirements ................... 

Building Equity ....................... 

Can People Afford to Join You? ......... 

Chapter 15: Legal Entities for Owning Property 

Checklist for Choosing a Legal Entity 

How You'll Hold Title and Arrange Members' Use Rights ........ 

Organizational Flexibility .................................... 

How You'll be Taxed ........................................ 

Overview: Corporations and Non-profit Corporations ........... 

Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) 

Homeowners Associations - Tax Advantages (and Disadvantages) . 
Condominium Associations .................................. 

Housing Co-ops - Separate Ownership and Use Rights 

Non-exempt Non-profit Corporations 


Chapter 16: If You're Using a Tax-exempt Non-profit 

Advantages of a 501(c)3 - Donations, Tax Breaks, Limited Liability ......... 

Disadvantages of a 501(c)3 - Onerous Requirements, Irrecoverable Assets .... 

Land-owning Entities and 501(c)3 Corporations - The Best of Both Worlds . 
How One Group Retained Control of its Board .......................... 

Title-holding Corporations - Collecting Income from "Passive" Sources ...... 

Private Land Trusts - Protecting the Land 

Community Land Trusts - An Irrevocable Decision 

For "Common Treasury" Communities - 501(d) Non-profit Corporations .... 


Chapter 17: Communication, Process, and Dealing with Conflict: 
The Heart of Healthy Community 

The "Rock Polisher" Effect ...................... 

Nourishing Sustainable Relationships ............ 

The Roots of Conflict: Emotionally-charged Needs . 
High Woundedness, High Willingness ........... 

Seven Kinds of Community Conflict We Wish We'd Left Behind 
Twenty-four Common Sources of Community Conflict .... 

The Fine Art of Offering Feedback ............... 

Receiving Feedback - Listening for Kernels of Truth 
Threshing Meetings ............................ 

Creating Specific Conflict Resolution Agreements . . 
Helping Each Other Stay Accountable to the Group 
A Graduated Series of Consequences ............. 

Chapter 18: Selecting People to Join You . . . 
Select for Emotional Maturity — the "Narrow Door' 

But is it Community? 

Passive Victims, Outraged Victims . 
Membership Screening and the Law 
Dealing Well with Saying "No" .... 

How Can You Tell? 

Questions, References, "Long Engagements" . . 
Appendix 1: Sample Community Vision Documents . 
Appendix 2: Sample Community Agreements ........ 

Appendix 3: Setting Up and Maintaining a 501(c)3 Non-profit . 

Resources ......................... ... 

Index ....................... ......................... ... 



As SOMEONE WHO KNEW LITTLE of intentional 
communities in 1992, I'm grateful to those devot- 
ed activists in the Fellowship for Intentional 
Community who patiently educated me - Laird 
Schaub, Geoph Kozeny Caroline Estes, Jenny 
Upton, Dan Questonberry Tony Sirna, Harvey 
Baker, Elph Morgan, Jillian Downey, Tree 
Bressen, Betty Didcoct and Paul DeLapa. 

I couldn't have written this book without 
being editor of Communities magazine for the last 
decade, and have learned much from its staff, 
columnists, contributors, and guest editors: Lance 
Scott, Billie Miracle, Ellie Sommer, Velma Kahn, 
Cecil Scheib, McCune Renwick- Porter, Jacob 
Stevens, Tristan Masat, Bill Metcalf, Albert Bates, 
Jan Bulman, Irwin Zucker, Douglas Stevenson, 
Carolyn Shaffer, Steve Niezgoda, Joyce Foote, 
Robert Foote, Deborah Altus, Tim Miller, Joe 
Peterson, Lois Arkin, Hank Obermeyer, Jeff 
Grossberg, Blair Voyvodic, Michael Mclntyre, 
Daniel Greenberg, Jeff Clearwater, Rob Sandelin, 
Luc Reid, Larry Kaplowitz, Elana Kann, Bill 
Flemming, and Patricia Greene. 

I am deeply grateful to the Fellowship for 
Intentional Community for generous permission 
to excerpt information from ten years of articles 
in Communities magazine, which helps illustrate 
community principles in every single chapter of 
this book. I appreciate the shared stories and 
insights of community veterans Judie Anders, 
Dave Jacke, John Charamella, Patch Adams, 
Brad Jarvis, Corinne McLaughlin, Gordon 

Davidson, Stephen Gaskin, Michael Traugot, 
Diamond Jamison, River Jamison, Susanna 
McDougal, Stephan Brown, Barbara Conroy, 
Don Lindemann, Katie McCamant, Chuck 
Durrett — and especially Colorado compadres 
Buzz Burrell, Denise Cote, Zev Paiss, Panther 
Wilde, the late Mike Mariner, Allen Butcher, 
Ben Lipman, David Lynch, John Cruickshank, 
John and Betsey McKinney, Judith Yarrow, Rob 
Jones, Jan Laser, Nancy Wood, and Jim Wetzel. 

I am grateful to the people who helped set 
me on the path towards learning, teaching, and 
writing about communities: Dan Drasin, 
Dorothy Ives, Gordon-Michael Scallion, Ernest 
"Chick" Callenbach, Jerome Ostentowki, Bill 
Becker, Don Markle, and Hildur Jackson. 

I'm especially obliged to the community 
founders who generously shared their stories — 
Velma Kahn, Tony Sirna, Arjuna daSilva, Valerie 
Naiman, Chuck Marsh, Peter Bane, Dianne Brause, 
Kenneth Mahaffey, Hank Obermeyer, Luc Reid, 
Dave Henson, and Adam Wolpert — heroes all. 

Enormous thanks to the people who offered 
expert advice: Frances Forster, James Hamilton, 
Bob Watzke, Zev Paiss, Chris ScottHanson, Jim 
Leach, Dave Henson, Gregory Clark, Cindy 
Maddox, Carolyn Goldschmidt, Steve Goldstein, 
and Bill Goodman; and those who critiqued chap- 
ters: Tree Bressen, Geoph Kozeny, Velma Kahn, 
Patricia Allison, Harvey Baker, and Paul DeLapa. 

Very special thanks to Rick Tobin, Brecharr 
Hemmaplardh, and Don Rose. 



By Patch Adams 

I'm a community founder. I knew when I 
entered medical school in 1967 that I would cre- 
ate an intentional community to offer low-cost 
medical care. I knew health care delivery was in 
big trouble, and as a nerd activist interested in 
cybernetics, I wanted to create a model that 
addressed all the problems of care delivery. In 
order for health care delivery to be inexpensive, I 
thought the staff should live in the community 
and it would include farming and host of support 
facilities. I know the medicine I wanted to prac- 
tice would include helping stimulate patients' liv- 
ing vital, independent lives. Concerned for the 
health of communities and society as much as of 
individuals and their families, I had read copious 
Utopian and dystopian literature. 

I was sure I wanted to do this in an inten- 
tional community. I visited Twin Oaks in 1969 
and other communities as well, all of which all 
fed my hunger to live this lifestyle, which I knew 
would be good for both staff and patient. I knew 
I would start a community when I graduated in 
1971, and wrote up an eight-page paper with our 
first mission statement. 

The innocence of that document makes me 
smile today. Like any good nerd, I tried to find 
any literature to help guide me on how to make 
my community vision happen. Nothing. So I 
spoke with fellow communards and dove right 
in. I wonder what we would have done different- 

ly if we had run into this thorough, intelligent 
book back then. Maybe looking at all we had to 
do would have scared us away. We probably had 
fewer meetings than any founded community in 
history. We also made every known mistake. Yet 
for me, community living was a magical nine 
years. At a certain point in our process we real- 
ized that in order to continue with our hospital 
dream we would have to take most of the steps 
this book lays out so well. 

Only a few community members wanted to 
continue in our medical service mission. The rest 
have all have all stayed together these 33 years as 
family, though no longer as an intentional com- 
munity. In 1993, the incredible people who chose 
to continue to create our medical community 
realized we needed to do things differently, and 
made a commitment to the kinds of organiza- 
tional structures this book suggests. 

Very few communities would survive long 
without the depth of structure you'll find here. 
Whether you use this wisdom or not — it still is 
worth all the efforts to create and live in commu- 
nity. I've had no burnout or regrets. Community 
has made everything in my life easier and has 
allowed me to have huge dreams, inconceivable 
without community. The skills I've learned, prac- 
tical and human, seem infinite. My love for 
humanity has thrived and expanded. Nothing 
about community has been easy, but it all has 



been fun. This is the work for political activists 
who want to live their solutions. If we are to sur- 
vive as a species we will do so learning the ecstasy 
of community. We do have to get together. 

Creating a Life Together shows what to pay 
attention to in forming new communities and 
ecovillages, and offers exercises to develop com- 
munity intelligence. Do these exercises even if you 
don't agree with them; consider them training 
wheels. Of course no book can be complete; you 

still might make a million mistakes. I suggest 
reading this book and then visiting ten communi- 
ties to see how they did it. 

I thought it would take four years to build our 
free 40-bed hospital in community. Now, in our 
33rd year, we may finally break ground this year. 
We're ready. We've learned that the journey to 
community is nurturing, and so will you. Good 

There is hardly anything more appealing, yet apparently more elusive, for humankind at the end of the 
20th century than the prospect of living in harmony with nature and with each other. 

— Robert and Diane Gilman, Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities 

Do not be afraid to build castles in the sky. 
That is where they belong. 
But once the dreams are in place, 
Your job is to build the foundation under them. 

— Henry David Thoreau 


Creating A Life Together 

«T FOUND THE LAND!" Jack exclaimed over 
J. the phone. As the originator of EarthDance 
Farm, a small forming community in northern 
Colorado, he had been searching for just the 
right community land for years, since long before 
he and a circle of acquaintances had begun meet- 
ing weekly to create community. He was so sure 
it was the right land, he said, that he'd plunked 
down $10,000 of his own savings as an option 
fee to take it off the market for two months so 
that we could decide. 

I had joined the group several weeks earlier, 
and I knew nothing about intentional communi- 
ties then. However, it had seemed in their meet- 
ings that something was missing. 

"What's the purpose of your community?" I 
had finally asked. "What's your vision for it?" No 
one could really answer. 

That Saturday we all drove out to the land to 
check it out. 

And promptly fell apart. Confronted by 
the reality of buying land, no one wanted to 
commit. Frankly, there was nothing to commit 
to. No common purpose or vision, no organi- 
zational structure, no budget, no agreements. 
In fact we hadn't made decisions in the group 
at all, but had simply talked about how won- 
derful life in community would be. Although 

Jack tried mightily to persuade us to go in with 
him on the land, there were no takers, and he 
barely got his money out before the option 

The Successful Ten Percent 

I've since learned that EarthDance Farm's expe- 
rience is fairly common. Most aspiring ecovil- 
lages and community groups — probably 90 
percent — never get off the ground; their envi- 
sioned communities never get built. They can't 
find the right land, don't have enough money, or 
get mired in conflict. Often they simply don't 
understand how much time, money, and organi- 
zational skill they'll need to pull off a project of 
this scope. 

I wanted to know about the successful ten 
percent, those groups that actually created their 
communities. What did they do right? 

I've sought the answer to this question ever 
since, in my years as editor of Communities maga- 
zine, and by visiting dozens of communities and 
interviewing scores of community founders. And 
I've seen a definite pattern. Generally, founders 
used the same kinds of skills, knowledge, and 
step-by-step processes to create widely different 
kinds of communities, from urban group house- 
holds or rural ecovillages. 



Creating a Life Together is an overview of that 
process, gleaned from some of the most innova- 
tive and successful community founders in 
North America. This is what they did, and what 
you can do, to create your community dream. 

What Are Intentional Communities and 

A residential or land-based intentional commu- 
nity is a group of people who have chosen to live 
with or near enough to each other to carry out 
their shared lifestyle or common purpose togeth- 
er. Families living in a cohousing communities in 
the city, students living in student housing coop- 
eratives near universities, and sustainability advo- 
cates living in rural back-to-the-land homesteads 
are all members of intentional communities. 

Community is not just about living together, 
but about the reasons for doing so. A group of 
people who have chosen to live together with a 
common purpose, working cooperatively to cre- 
ate a lifestyle that reflects their shared core val- 
ues," is one way the non-profit Fellowship for 
Intentional Community describes it. 

What most communities have in common is 
idealism: they're founded on a vision of living a 
better way, whether community members literal- 
ly live together in shared group houses, or live 
near each other as neighbors. A community's 
ideals usually arise from something its members 
see as lacking or missing in the wider culture. 

Ecovillages are intentional communities that 
aspire to create a more humane and sustainable 
way of life. One widely quoted definition (by 
Robert and Diane Gilman) defines ecovillages as 
"human-scale, full-featured settlements in which 
human activities are harmlessly integrated into 
the natural world in a way that is supportive of 
healthy human development, and which can be 
successfully continued into the indefinite future." 

An intentional community aspiring to 
become an ecovillage attempts to have a popula- 
tion small enough that everyone knows each 
other and can influence the outcome of commu- 
nity decisions. It hopes to provide housing, work 
opportunities, and social and spiritual opportu- 
nities on-site, creating as self-sufficient a com- 
munity as possible. Typically, an ecovillage builds 
ecologically sustainable housing, grows much of 
its own organic food, recycles its waste products 
harmlessly, and, as much as possible, generates its 
own off-grid power. 

Sirius Ecovillage near Amherst, 
Massachusetts, grows a large percentage of its 
organic food, generates a portion of its own off- 
grid power, and offers tours and classes on sus- 
tainable living. Eco Village at Ithaca has built 
the first two of its three planned ecologically 
oriented cohousing communities on 176 acres 
near Ithaca, New York, and operates its own 
organic Community Supported Agriculture 
farm for members and neighbors. We'll explore 
two aspiring ecovillages in the following chap- 
ters: Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in Missouri, 
and Earthaven Ecovillage in North Carolina. I 
use the term "communities" in this to mean 
ecovillages as well as other forms of intentional 

More and more people are yearning for more 
"community" in their lives; you may be one of 
them. These are people who feel increasingly 
isolated and alienated, and want something 
more satisfying. This can mean seeking to create 
community where they are, or it can mean seek- 
ing residential, land-based intentional commu- 
nity. It includes cohousing, shared group house- 
holds, ecovillages, housing co-ops, environmen- 
tal activist communities, Christian fellowship 
communities, rural homesteading communities, 
and so on. 


Many peruse the hefty Communities Directory, 
which lists over 600 communities and where they 
are and how to join them. Others browse the web 
for individual community websites, beginning 
with such starting places as the Fellowship for 
Intentional Community (; The 
Cohousing Network, (; 
Ecovillage Network of the Americas 
(; or the Northwest 
Intentional Communities Association 
( . 

Cohousing Communities 

Cohousing is another increasingly popular form 
of contemporary intentional community. 
Cohousing communities are small neighbor- 
hoods of usually 10 to 40 households which are 
managed by the residents themselves, and which 
have usually been developed and designed by 
them as well (although increasingly cohousers 
partner with outside developers). Cohousers 
own their own relatively small housing units and 
share ownership of the whole property and their 
large community building (with kitchen, dining 
room/meeting space, and usually a children's 
play area, laundry facilities, and guest rooms). 
Cohousing residents conduct their community 
business through consensus-based meetings, and 
enjoy optional shared meals together three or 
four nights a week. 

"Cohousers believe that it's more readily pos- 
sible to live lighter on the planet if they cooper- 
ate with their neighbors, and their lives are easi- 
er, more economical, more interesting, and more 
fun," observes Chuck Durrett, one of two archi- 
tects who introduced cohousing to North 
America from Denmark in 1986. By 2002, 68 
completed cohousing communities were up and 
running in North America, and approximately 
200 more were in various stages of development. 

The growing interest in intentional commu- 
nities, whether ecovillages, cohousing, or other 
kinds of communities, isn't just wishful thinking. 
By 2002 the yearning for community, and indi- 
vidual communities, has been favorably — and 
sometimes repeatedly — covered by the New 
York Times, USA Today, The Boston Globe, NBC's 
"Dateline," ABC's "Good Morning America," 
CNN, and National Public Radio. 

Why Now? 

I believe we're experiencing a culture-wide, yet 
deeply personal, phenomenon — as if some kind 
of "switch" has simultaneously flipped in the psy- 
ches of thousands of people. Aware that we're liv- 
ing in an increasingly fragmented, shallow, venal, 
costly, and downright dangerous society, and 
reeling from the presence of guns in the school 
yard and rogues in high office, we're longing for a 
way of life that's warmer, kinder, more whole- 
some, more affordable, more cooperative, and 
more connected. 

This is partly because we're so unnaturally 
disconnected. Post -World War II trends toward 
nuclear families, single-family dwellings, urban 
and suburban sprawl, and job-related mobility 
have disconnected us from the web of human 
connections that nourished people in our grand- 
parents' day, as well as numbing us with simula- 
tions of human interaction on TV sitcoms 
rather than living in a culture small-scale and 
stable enough that we'd have such interactions 

The people interested in intentional commu- 
nities aren't extremists. They're the people next 
door. Many are in their 40s and 50s; they've 
raised families, built careers, and picked up and 
moved more times than they can count. They're 
tired of Madison Avenue's idea of the American 
Dream. They want to settle down, sink roots, 


and live in the good company of friends. Others 
are young people; fresh out of college, hyper- 
aware of our precarious environmental situation, 
and disgusted with the consumerist mall ethic, 
they say "No thanks." 

We're also recognizing that living in commu- 
nity is literally good for us. Scientific research 
shows that our health improves when we live in 
a web of connection with others. "Of all the 
many influences on our health, interpersonal 
relationships are not only a factor, but increas- 
ingly are being recognized as the most crucial (ac- 
tor" physician Blair Vovoydic writes in 
Communities magazine."Being connected to other 
people probably makes you physically healthier 
than if you lived alone." This appears to be espe- 
cially true for older people, who tend to stay 
healthier longer, recover from illness more quick- 
ly, and live longer than the elderly not living in 

It's also healthier for the planet. At a time 
when — every day — we're losing 200,000 acres 
of rainforest "lungs," we're spewing a million tons 
of toxic waste into the atmosphere, and 45,000 
people die of starvation every day, living simply, 
cooperating, and sharing resources with others 
may be the only way of life that makes any sense. 

"Small, independent, self-sufficient commu- 
nities have the greatest ability to survive the nor- 
mal cycles of boom-and-bust which our econo- 
my and culture go through, and an even better 
chance of surviving the major catastrophes 
which may loom ahead as our oil supply dwin- 
dles," writes Thorn Hartmann in his book The 
Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight. 

What better place than intentional commu- 
nities to downsize possessions, share ownership 
of land and tools, grow healthy food, share 
meals, make decisions collaboratively, and 
together create the kind of culture that nourish- 

es our children as they grow up, and ourselves as 
we grow older? And what better place than 
intentional communities to show the rest of the 
world that even hyper- mobile North Americans 
can choose to live this way? 

What You'll Learn Here 

It's becoming increasingly obvious to many of us 
that intentional community living is one key to 
surviving, even thriving, in these disintegrating 
times. But, like members of the EarthDance 
Farm, few of us know where to start. 

Creating a Life Together is an attempt to help 
your ecovillage or intentional community get off 
to a good start. It attempts to distill the hard 
experience of the founders of dozens of success- 
ful communities formed since the early '90s into 
solid advice on getting started as a group, creat- 
ing vision documents, decision-making and gov- 
ernance, agreements and policies, buying and 
financing land, communication and process, and 
selecting people to join you. It's the information 
I was looking for when I began this journey. It's 
simply what works, what doesn't work, and how 
not to reinvent the wheel. 

And this information is not only for people 
forming new communities — whether or not 
you already own your land. It can also be valu- 
able for those of you thinking about joining com- 
munity one day — since you, too, will need to 
know what works. And it's also for those of you 
already living in community, since you can only 
benefit from knowing what others have done in 
similar circumstances. 

Because forming a rural community involves 
more variables than other kinds of communities 
(for example, how members might make a liv- 
ing), I focus more on rural communities. 
However, most of the steps and skills described 
in these chapters apply to urban and suburban 


communities as well. This book also focuses on 
communities in which decisions are made by all 
community members, and doesn't examine 
issues specific to ashrams, meditation centers, or 
other spiritual or therapeutic communities in 
which decisions are made by one leader or a 
small group. Why you need a legal entity 
(Chapter 8), and what you should consider 
before choosing a legal entity (in Chapter 15), 
apply to forming communities and ecovillages 
anywhere; however, information on specific legal 
entities (in Chapters 15 and 16) apply only to 
the United States. 

Is This Information Really Necessary? 

Many communities that formed in the 1970s and 
1980s, including large, well-established ones, 
weren't familiar with most of this information 
when they started, and apparently didn't need it. 
Nonetheless, I urge you to learn these steps and 
skills. Why? First, because establishing an ecovil- 
lage or new community is not easy, then or now. 
Getting a group of people to agree on a common 
vision, make decisions collaboratively and fairly, 
and combine their money with others to own 
property together can bring up deep-seated emo- 
tional issues — often survival-level issues — that 
can knock a community off its foundations. I 
want you to have all the help you can get. 

Second, since the mid-1980s, the cost of 
land and housing has skyrocketed relative to 
most people's assets and earning power. Zoning 
regulations and building codes are considerably 
more restrictive than they were in earlier 
decades. And because of media coverage that 
highlights any violent or extreme practices in a 
group, the "cult" stereotype has become part of 
the public consciousness, and may affect how 
potential neighbors feel about your group mov- 
ing in next door. 

Newly forming communities can flounder 
and sink for other reasons, too. Not being able to 
agree on location. Not having enough time to 
devote to research or group process. Not having 
enough access to capital. Not finding the right 
land. Based on the hard lessons of the "successful 
10 percent" (and the "unsuccessful 90 percent"), 
today's community founders must be consider- 
ably more organized, purposeful, and better cap- 
italized than their counterparts of earlier years. 

Is This Advice "Corporate"? 

As you skim these pages you'll see many figures 
and percentages — "business and finance" infor- 
mation — and you'll no find advice on the spiri- 
tual principles involved in forming a community. 
Is this book just some representation of "the sys- 
tem" you may be trying to leave behind? Why is 
there no mention of the spiritual aspects? 

I'm presuming that your own spiritual 
impulses and visions about community are 
already well developed; that you know very well 
why you want to live in an ecovillage or inten- 
tional community or create your own. As for all 
the business and finance advice, consider it a set 
of tools designed to get you from your unique 
personal impulses of spirit to the manifestation 
of that vision in physical form. And while I'm not 
part of "the system," I study the system in order 
to learn how to use some of its more useful tools 
to create alternatives to it. As an old adage from 
India says, "It takes a thorn to remove a thorn." At 
the present time, anyway, it takes budgets and 
business plans, and a rudimentary understanding 
of real estate and financing, to create alternatives 
to a society in which these tools are necessary. 
Consider the skills and steps in this book to be 
the shovels and soil amendments you'll need to 
grow your own community, from the seeds of 
your vision into a flourishing organism. 


How to Use this Book 

Most of the skills to learn and steps to take in 
forming an ecovillage or intentional community 
are not linear, but simultaneous. So although the 
information is presented in a step-by-step way, 
some tasks must be undertaken together. For 
example, although you'll need to create a legal 
entity for owning land before you buy property 
together, what kind of land you want as well how 
you intend to organize ownership and decision 
making, makes all the difference in which legal 
structure(s) you choose in the first place. 

I suggest first reading this book quickly, to get an 
overview, and then a second time, slowly and 
thoroughly, then collect and read other resources 
for more detailed information. I also suggest that 
everyone in your group read this book, not just 
those who are getting started and assuming lead- 
ership roles. The more of you who are informed 
— and hopefully disabused of common miscon- 
ceptions about starting new ecovillages and com- 
munities — the more empowered and effective 
you'll be as a group. 
So let's get started. 

Part One: Planting the 
Seeds of Healthy 

Chapter 1 

The Successful Ten Percent — 
and Why Ninety Percent Fail 

November 1988, six would-be community 
founders piled into a small pickup truck and 
headed for Oregon. Their vision at the time was 
to create a Community Land Trust with houses 
in the Bay Area and rural land within commut- 
ing distance. They'd just learned of an 87-acre 
property with a stream and 25 buildings in rural 
Oregon that had fallen to the IRS in the 1970s 
for $1.7 million in unpaid taxes. The former site 
of a Christian intentional community the prop- 
erty had a large dining lodge and kitchen, 12 
small rustic cabins, two dorms that could sleep 
125, laundry and garden outbuildings, a large 
woodshop, an office/classroom complex, and a 
partially finished residential fourplex. Back taxes 
notwithstanding, it was what many community 
founders dream of — a rural property with 
many buildings — so off they went. 

Ten hours later they clambered out of the 
cramped truck into the cold rain and surveyed 
the scene. "It was extraordinarily depressing," 
recalls Dianne Brause. What had once been 
groomed, beautiful lawn was now shoulder-high 
grass. The once-beautiful vegetable garden grew 
thistles eight feet high. Forty-five acres of for- 

merly magnificent forest was an open field of 
stumps and brambles, clear-cut seven years earli- 
er by the Christian group to raise money to pay 
their tax lawyers. Pushing through the wet walls 
of grass, the visitors examined the first few build- 
ings. Most, empty and neglected for almost seven 
years, had broken windows, rotting roofs, and 
sagging steps. The group creaked open doors to 
find cold, dirty, foul-smelling rooms full of 
debris and mold. When the former owners real- 
ized the IRS would foreclose on their property, 
they stripped the buildings of everything move- 
able: furniture, carpets, sinks, stoves, vent fans, 
and fixtures. They had ripped the sprinklers out 
of the lawns and removed every light bulb. Now, 
as the group picked their way through litter, bro- 
ken glass, and dead birds, they found no running 
water — the pipes had frozen and broken the 
previous year. Not only this, they said, but the 
property would probably now cost at least half a 
million dollars; its zoning had reverted from 
multiple occupancy to the county-wide regula- 
tion of "no more than five unrelated adults," and 
the place was probably still saddled with enor- 
mous IRS debt. Cold, soaked, and miserable, the 
group left. Obviously, the place was a bust. 



But not for two members on that fateful day. 
Dianne Brause, a former conference center 
teacher, saw beautiful land with gentle meadows 
and some great trees left standing, excellent gar- 
dening potential, and all the right buildings — an 
ideal community and retreat/conference center. 
Kenneth Mahaffey, a businessman who bought, 
renovated, and rented out old houses, saw an 
excellent piece of real estate, an exciting land-pur- 
chase challenge, and the ideal site for a communi- 
ty. Dianne had experience and interest in com- 
munity and good people skills; Kenneth had 
expertise in real estate and finance. Both were 
movers and shakers who made things happen. 

Within six months they had closed on the 
property. Today it is Lost Valley Educational 
Center, a thriving community of 22 adults and 
seven children, with clean, renovated buildings, 
restored vegetable gardens, a reforestation proj- 
ect with sapling Douglas firs and hardwoods, 
and a vibrant conference center business. 

Lost Valley — How One Group Did It 

Kenneth and Dianne's first challenge was finding 
out who controlled the property and to whom 
they should submit a bid. Was the IRS still in 
charge? Since it had been seven years since the 
IRS takeover, was the huge tax lien about to 
expire? After much confusion and delay, they 
were finally able to send a bid via a local legal 
firm representing the unknown owners, though 
they were told they must not, under any circum- 
stances, contact the IRS. 

The property had been appraised at 
$557,000 a few years earlier, and before that, 
when it was still forested, at $750,000. The back 
property-tax bill turned out to be $50,000, but 
they believed it could be reduced. Many other 
parties had been interested in the property, and 
one had bid $250,000 a few months earlier, but 

were no longer sure they could pay it. By guess- 
ing at their chances of success, the possible back- 
taxes outcome, the probable challenge to rezon- 
ing, and the property's state of ruin, Kenneth 
took a leap of faith and bid $80,000. 

Over the next three months they heard 
nothing. Their inquiries led nowhere and they 
got conflicting stories about who really con- 
trolled the property. Finally Kenneth and 
Dianne contacted the IRS directly, and eventu- 
ally learned that the legal owners were now the 
Seattle law firm that had fought the IRS on 
behalf of the previous owners. They called the 
Seattle lawyers, who said they knew nothing of 
the bid. The next day, however, they called back, 
saying, "If you can raise $90,000 we can close in 
three weeks." 

With closing costs and lawyers' fees, the 
property would cost about $100,000. Kenneth 
raised the money from friends, creating three- 
month bridge loans at 8-10 percent interest. He 
stipulated in his sales offer that the IRS rescind 
their $1.7 million lien on the property. The 
seven-year period was up and the IRS had to 
decide whether to sue for the money or drop the 
claim. Fortunately, they chose to drop it. 

Kenneth and Diane incorporated Lost Valley 
Center, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit educational 
organization. The property closed in April, 
1989. Technically, Kenneth held the title, but the 
new non-profit considered itself the proud 
owner of 87 acres of grass, thistles, and run- 
down buildings. Although it still had a $50,000 
back property-tax burden and uncertain future 
zoning, they'd scored a half-million dollar prop- 
erty. In a few months Kenneth remortgaged one 
of his real estate holdings and paid off the bridge 
loans. Then he loaned the organization another 
$100,000 to create a fund to repair and renovate 
the property. 


Like many other community founders, they 
faced a serious zoning challenge. The previous 
owners had been allowed "multiple occupancy" 
but the county planning department decided that 
the property's grandfather clause was invalid 
because of the length of time between the previ- 
ous use and current use of the property. So the 
property reverted to the county's normal zoning 
rules, meaning no more than five unrelated adults 
could live on the land, despite the fact it was 87 
acres with 25 buildings. While they eventually 
did manage to get the multiple- occupancy zoning 
reinstated, buying the property without knowing 
this was quite a gamble. Usually, to be among "the 
ten percent," community founders need to resolve 
zoning issues before buying the land. 

Two months later, in June, Dianne, Kenneth, 
and five others interested in becoming communi- 
ty pioneers moved to the land and set to work 
with a will. 

The first month they cleared all the buildings 
of piles of junk, rebuilt the water system, 
restored the basic landscaping, and planted a 
quarter-acre vegetable garden. By August, they'd 
set up the woodshop and the Lost Valley 
Center's business offices, and repaired the dorm 
buildings, one of the fourplex residences, the 
dining hall, and five classrooms. They created a 
brochure for their conference and retreat center, 
and plastered local stores and bulletin boards 
with flyers — following advice to be as active and 
public as possible about their intended confer- 
ence center activities. They went out of their way 
to meet their neighbors and join in neighbor- 
hood picnics and volleyball games, and invited 
the neighbors to their open houses. In 
September, joined by a few more pioneering res- 
idents, they renovated some of the cabins, set up 
their commercial kitchen, supplied their dorms 
with mattresses, blankets, and linens, and 

bought used furniture for all facilities. In 
October they hosted their first conference. 

Another challenge was to show the county 
why the back property taxes of $50,000, should be 
reduced. Lost Valley pointed out that according to 
county law, since they and the previous owners 
were both 501(c) non-profits, they shouldn't be 
penalized for the length of time lapsed between 
the dissolution of the previous community and 
their own purchase of the land. The county 
agreed, and in January 1990 reduced the back 
taxes to about $10,000. The county also generous- 
ly decided that the work of Lost Valley fell within 
their own tax-exempt guidelines, and wouldn't be 
liable for further property taxes as long as all activ- 
ities on the property supported Lost Valley's own 
tax-exempt purposes. 

Over the first four months of 1990, Lost 
Valley residents and volunteers also planted more 
gardens and began a reforestation project, start- 
ing 1,000 trees in their seed orchard and 800 baby 
Douglas fir and other trees in the clearcut. They 
developed a watershed restoration program with 
federal agencies, designed Ancient Forest Tour 
programs, and began agricultural research and 
educational projects. They held their first resi- 
dential permaculture design course and began a 
bimonthly environmental education program. 
They continued renovating — cleaning or replac- 
ing all their carpets, installing fire safety systems, 
and renovating another cabin. They remodeled a 
small building as a staff kitchen and youth hostel 
and began hosting overnight guests. 

Lost Valley was on its way. 

What Works, What Doesn't Work? 

Since the early 1990s, I've been intensely curious 
about what it takes for a newly forming commu- 
nity or ecovillage to succeed. So, first as publish- 
er of a newsletter about forming communities 


and then as editor of Communities magazine, I 
interviewed dozens of people involved in the 
process of forming new communities and ecovil- 
lage projects as well as founders of established 
communities. I wanted to know what worked, 
what didn't work, and how not to reinvent the 

I learned that no matter how inspired and 
visionary the founders, only about one out of ten 
new communities actually get built.* The other 
90 percent seemed to go nowhere, occasionally 
because of lack of money or not finding the right 
land, but mostly because of conflict. And usual- 
ly, conflict accompanied by heartbreak. And 
sometimes, conflict, heartbreak — and lawsuits. 

What was going on here?! These people 
started out trying to create a way of life based on 
ideals of friendship, good will, cooperation, and 
fair decision- making. What had these founders 
not known? 

The Successful Ten Percent 

Lost Valleys story illustrates the major steps of 
forming a new community or ecovillage — 
establishing a core group with a particular vision 
and purpose, choosing a legal structure, finding 
and financing property, and moving in and reno- 
vating (or developing land). It also involves creat- 
ing an internal community economy and refi- 
nancing any initial loans if necessary. (Since 
ecovillages are a form of intentional community, 
I'll use the term "community" to mean ecovillages 
as well as other forms of community). 

Each of the communities we'll look at has 
undertaken a similar journey, and roughly in the 
same order. Most of the seven founders of 
Sowing Circle/Occidental Arts and Ecology 
Center in northern California were an already 
established group of friends and housemates 
who in 1995 formed a partnership (later replaced 

by a Limited Liability Company) to purchase 
property, and a 501(c)3 non-profit to manage 
their planned conference center business. They 
conducted a thorough property search, finding 
an 80-acre, million- dollar property with existing 
community buildings and cabins. They bought it 
for $850,000, paid for by a combination of owner 
financing and loans from their families, and sec- 
ond and third mortgages from friends and col- 
leagues. They moved in and renovated for eight 
months, started up their conference center busi- 
ness, and refinanced with a single private loan 
five years later. 

In 1998, dozens of web surfers from around 
the country coalesced around an Internet call for 
people to cofound an income- sharing communi- 
ty in rural New England. After planning the 
Meadowdance community via e-mail and in per- 
son for a year, the forming community group 
located 165 acres of nearly ideal land in rural 
Vermont for $250,000. Six group members will- 
ing to move ahead formed a Limited Liability 
Partnership and through members' loans raised 
most of the funds to buy and develop the prop- 
erty. They spent a year seeking a conditional use 
permit from the county for their large multipur- 
pose community building, but, after spending 
$20,000 on tests, permits and fees, they didn't get 
it. So, they bought a house in town and started 
up their software testing and typing/editing 
businesses there. In 2002, after the businesses 
had started to take off, they began looking for 
rural land again. 

Each of these communities are among "the 
ten percent" — the forming communities that 
actually get up and running. We'll learn more 
about each of them in later chapters. 

But what about the other 90 percent of form- 
ing communities — the ones that fail? 

*The figure is somewhat higher for forming cohousing communities. Approximately 25 percent seem to actually get built, according to Cobousing 
magazine editor Stella Tarnay. 


Why Ninety Percent Fail 

In the early 1990s, a founder I'll call Sharon 
bought land for a spiritual community I'll call 
Gracelight. At first it looked promising. Sharon 
had received unprecedented and unusually rapid 
zoning approval for a clustered-housing site 
plan. She met regularly with a group of friends 
and supporters who wanted to be part of the 
community. But over the next 18 months, first 
the original group and then a second group fell 
apart, disappointed and bitter. Sharon struggled 
with money issues, land- development issues, 
interpersonal issues. After two years she said she 
was no longer attempting community, and in fact 
loathed the idea of community and didn't even 
want to hear the "C"-word. 

What had this founder not known? 

• How much money it would take to com- 
plete the land development process before 
she could legally transfer title to each 
incoming community member. Sharon 
had no budget in advance, and no idea what 
it would cost to complete county require- 
ments for a site plan and roads, utilities, etc. 

• How much each lot would eventually 
cost, and that she shouldn't have fos- 
tered hope in those who could never 
afford to buy in. Sharon knew that some 
people in the group wouldn't be able to 
buy in, but counted on her sense that "it 
will all work out somehow." 

• That she'd need adequate legal docu- 
ments and financial data to secure pri- 
vate financing. Sharon believed that 
telling potential financial contributors 
her spiritual vision for Gracelight was 
sufficient. It didn't occur to her to provide 
a business plan, budget, or financial dis- 

closure sheet, or to demonstrate to poten- 
tial investors how and when they might 
get their money back. 

• That she should make it clear to every- 
one at the outset that as well as having a 
vision she was also serving as land 
developer. Sharon didn't think of herself 
as a "developer," and never used the term, 
in spite of the fact that she financed and 
was responsible for the purchase and 
development of the land. 

• That she needed to tell people that she 
fully intended to be reimbursed for her 
land-purchase and development costs 
and make a profit to compensate her 
time and entrepreneurial risk. Sharon 
didn't think in terms like "entrepreneurial 
risk," even though she was taking one. 
When group members in the first and 
second forming community groups final- 
ly brought up financial issues and asked 
pointed questions, she was offended. And 
group members were offended too, when 
they learned Sharon was going to make a 
profit. One can argue for or against mak- 
ing a profit on community land; the point 
is, Sharon didn't make her intentions 
clear at the outset. 

• That she needed to tell people from the 
beginning that, as the developer, she 
would make all land-development deci- 
sions. Again, one can argue either way 
about one person making decisions about 
his or her own financial risks in forming a 
community — but Sharon should have 
made these clear. 

• That a process was needed for who was in 
the group and who wasn't, and for what 
kinds of decisions the group would make 


and which Sharon alone would make. 

• That consensus was the wrong decision- 
making option for a group with no com- 
mon vision or purpose, with one 
landowner and others with no financial 
risk, and with no clear distinction 
between those who were decision-mak- 
ing members of the group and those 
who were not. In fact, the group wasn't 
practicing consensus at all, but rather 
some vaguely conceived idea of it. 

"Structural Conflict" — And Six Ways to 
Reduce It 

After years of interviewing founders like Sharon 
and hearing their stories of community break-up, 
heartbreak, and even lawsuits, I began to see a 
pattern. Most new-community failures seemed to 
result from what I call "structural" conflict — 
problems that arise when founders don't explicit- 
ly put certain processes in place or make certain 
important decisions at the outset, creating one or 
more omissions in their organizational structure. 
These built-in structural problems seem to func- 
tion like time bombs. Several weeks, months, or 
even years into the community-forming process 
the group erupts in major conflict that could have 
been largely prevented if they had handled these 
issues early on. Naturally, this triggers a great deal 
of interpersonal conflict at the same time, making 
the initial structural conflict much worse. 

While interpersonal conflict is normal and 
expected, I believe that much of the structural 
conflict in failed communities could have been 
prevented, or at least greatly reduced, if the 
founders had paid attention to at least six crucial 
elements in the beginning. Each of these issues, 
if not addressed in the early stages of a forming 
community, can generate structural conflict 
"time bombs" later on. 

1. Identify your community vision and create 

vision documents There's probably no more 
devastating source of structural conflict in 
community than various members having 
different visions for why you're there in the 
first place. This will erupt into all kinds of 
arguments about what seem like ordinary 
topics — how much money you spend on a 
particular project, or how much or how often 
you work on a task. It's really a matter of 
underlying differences (perhaps not always 
conscious) about what the community is for. 
All your community members need to be on 
the same page from the beginning, and must 
know what your shared community vision is, 
and know you all support it. Your shared 
vision should be thoroughly discussed, 
agreed upon, and written down at the get-go. 
(See Chapter 4.) 

2. Choose a fair, participatory decision-mak- 

ing process appropriate for your group. 
And if you choose consensus, get trained 
in it. Unless you're forming a spiritual, reli- 
gious or therapeutic community with a spir- 
itual leader who'll make all decisions — and 
you all agree to this in advance — your 
members will resent any power imbalances. 
Resentment over power issues can become 
an enormous source of conflict in commu- 
nity. Decision-making is the most obvious 
point of power, and the more it is shared 
and participatory, the less this particular 
kind of conflict will come up. This means 
everyone in the group has a voice in deci- 
sions that will affect their lives in communi- 
ty, with a decision-making method that is 
fair and even-handed. How it works — the 
procedure for your decision-making 
method — has to be well-understood by 
everyone in the group. 


A more specific source of community 
conflict is using the consensus decision-mak- 
ing process without thoroughly understand- 
ing it. What often passes for consensus in 
many groups is merely "pseudo-consensus" 
— which exhausts people, drains their ener- 
gy and good will, generates a great deal of 
resentment all by itself and causes people to 
despise the process they call "consensus." So 
if your group plans to use consensus, you'll 
prevent a great deal of structural conflict by 
getting trained in it first. (See Chapter 6.) 

3. Make clear agreements — in writing. (This 

includes choosing an appropriate legal enti- 
ty for owning land together). People 
remember things differently. Your agree- 
ments — from the most mundane to the 
most legally and financially significant — 
should absolutely be written down. Then if 
later you all remember things differently you 
can always look it up. The alternative — 
"we're right but you folks are wrong (and 
maybe you're even trying to cheat us)" — can 
break up a community faster than you can 
say "You'll be hearing from our lawyer." (See 
Chapter 7.) 

4. Learn good communication and group 
process skills. Make clear communication 
and resolving conflicts a priority. Being able 
to talk with one other about sensitive sub- 
jects and still feel connected is my definition 
of good communication skills. This includes 
methods for holding each other accountable 
for agreements. I consider it a set-up for 
structural conflict down the road if you don't 
address communication and group process 
skills and conflict resolution methods early 
on. Addressing these issues at the start will 
allow you to have procedures in place later on 
when things get tense — like practicing fire 

drill procedures now, when there's no fire. 
(See Chapter 17 and Chapter 18.) 

5. In choosing cofounders and new members, 

select for emotional maturity. An often- 
overwhelming source of conflict is allowing 
someone to enter your forming community 
group, or later, to enter your community, who 
is not aligned to your vision and values. Or 
someone whose emotional pain — surfacing 
weeks or months later as disruptive attitudes 
or behaviors — can end up costing you 
untold hours of meeting time and draining 
your group of energy and well-being. A well- 
designed process for selecting and integrating 
new people into your group, and screening 
out those who don't resonate with your val- 
ues, vision, or behavioral norms, can save 
repeated rounds of stress and conflict in the 
weeks and years ahead. (See Chapter 18.) 

6. Learn the head skills and heart skills you 
need to know. Forming a new community is 
like simultaneously trying to start a new busi- 
ness and begin a marriage — and is every bit 
as serious as doing either. It requires many of 
the same planning and financial skills as 
launching a successful business enterprise, 
and the same capacities for trust, good will, 
and honest, kind interpersonal communica- 
tion as marrying your sweetheart. Founders 
of successful new communities seem to know 
this. Yet those who get mired in severe prob- 
lems have usually leapt in without a clue. Like 
Sharon, these well-meaning folks didn't know 
what they didn't know. So the sixth major 
way to reduce structural conflict is to take the 
time to learn what you'll need to know. 

Community founders must cultivate both 
heart skills and head skills.. This means learning 
how to make fair, participatory group decisions; 


how to speak from the heart; how to face conflict 
when it arises and deal with it constructively; and 
how to make cooperative decisions and craft fair 
agreements. It means learning how to create 
budgets, timelines, and strategic plans; and how 
to evaluate legal entities for land ownership or 
business or educational activities. It means learn- 
ing the real estate market in your desired area, 
local zoning regulations, and, if needed, how to 
secure loans with reasonable terms. It means 
learning how to structure healthy and affordable 
internal community finances. It means learning 
about site planning and land development. It 
means doing all this with a sense of connection 
and shared adventure. Plunging into the land- 
search process or trying to raise money without 
first understanding these interrelated areas is a 
sure invitation to trouble. 

Community founders tend to be specialists, 
but in fact they must be generalists. I've seen 
founders with spiritual ideals and compelling 
visions flounder and sink because they have no 
idea how to conduct a land search or negotiate a 
bank loan. I've seen founders with plenty of tech- 
nical or business savvy — folks able to build a 
nifty composting toilet or craft a solid strategic 
plan — who didn't know the first thing about 
how to speak honestly and from the heart to 
another human being. And I've seen sensitive 
spiritual folks as well as type-A "get-the-job- 
done" folks crash and burn the first time they 
encountered any real conflict. 

Not everyone in your forming group needs to 
have all these skills or all this information — 
that's one reason you're a group! Nor must your 
group possess all these skills and areas of expert- 
ise among yourselves when you begin. You can 
always hire training for your group or expertise 
in whatever you need, whether it be a consensus 
trainer, communication skills trainer, meeting 

facilitator, lawyer, accountant, project manager/ 
developer, land- use planner, permaculture 
designer, and so on. 

Many well-established North American 
communities never included most or all of these 
six structural ingredients at their origin, and 
don't see why they should have. "Hey, we're here 
now, aren't we?" In the 1960s, 70s, or early '80s, 
people usually just bought land and got started. 
Some of these communities are still with us 
today, and proud of it. 

Nonetheless, for communities forming today, 
I recommend addressing all six of these issues 
early on, for all the reasons already noted. 

What Will it Cost? 

How much it will cost in total (and how much it 
will cost each founder) is a question that can 
only be estimated by creating a financial model 
and plugging in the numbers. To do that, you'll 
need to start with certain assumptions. Will you 
be rural, semi-rural, suburban, or urban? What 
are land values in your desired area? Will you 
renovate or develop your property? How many 
members will you have? Will you have commu- 
nity businesses? How will you structure your 
internal community finances to meet monthly 
land payments and other expenses? If your num- 
bers show that your plan is too expensive or oth- 
erwise unworkable, revise some of your assump- 
tions and try again. 

How much it costs communities that have 
formed since the early 1990s (when it became 
harder to do than in previous decades) varies 
widely, depending on all the above factors, but 
mostly on land values. For example, in 1996 
seven founders of Abundant Dawn community 
bought a beautiful 90-acre owner-financed par- 
cel on a river with a farmhouse, cabin, and barn 
in rural southwestern Virginia for $130,000. 


They paid $13,000 down, contributing slightly 
more than $1,800 each. 

At the other end of the spectrum, in 1994 
seven founders of Sowing Circle/Occidental 
Arts & Ecology Center bought an 80-acre, 
owner-financed fully-developed "turn- key" prop- 
erty in Sonoma County, California with rolling 
hills, panoramic views, stands of oak and red- 
wood, two 20-year-old organic gardens, and 16 
community buildings and cabins. They paid 
$850,000, with each member contributing about 
$20,000 to the $150,000 down payment. 

Figure on several hundred thousand dollars 
or more to buy and develop your land, depend- 
ing on your desired area and the magnitude of 
your plans. The cost per person will depend on 
how many founders and/or members split the 
costs. If you use owner financing, private financ- 
ing, or bank financing, multiply that amount sev- 
eral times over for the true land-purchase cost, 
including all the principal and interest payments 
you'll be making over the years. (See Chapters 9, 
10, 11, 12, and 14.) 

How Long Does it Take? 

It also takes enormous amounts of time to pull 
off a project of this magnitude. Even if you meet 
weekly, you'll still need people to work on various 
committees that work and/or meet between 
scheduled meetings — gathering information, 
calling officials, crunching the numbers, drafting 
proposals, and so on — for at least a year, or even 
two years or longer. 

The founders of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage 
in Missouri first explored their ideas and organ- 
ized their initial group in 1993, began their land 
search in 1995, and bought land in 1996. They 
worked steadily to develop it and raise their pop- 
ulation for the next six years, and they continue 
to do so. The founders of Earthaven Ecovillage 

in North Carolina began with an original group 
in 1990, searched for land for four years, reorgan- 
ized their group and bought land in 1994, and 
refinanced and began developing in 1995. They 
have spent the past seven years developing it and 
increasing their membership, and they also con- 
tinue to do so. 

Generally, the larger your group and/or the 
smaller your assets, the longer it'll take. And the 
fewer your numbers and the greater your assets, 
the faster it will happen. For example, the 
founder of Mariposa Grove, an urban communi- 
ty in Oakland, California, began looking for 
property in 1998, bought it in cash in 1999, and 
spent the next three years renovating it and 
attracting members. The two founders of Lost 
Valley Educational Center found their property 
in 1988, bought it (also paying cash) in 1989, and 
renovated it and got it ready to host workshop 
participants by 1990. They've spent the past 12 
years continuing to develop the physical infra- 
structure and build the community. 

So this is really a trick question. While it can 
take from a year to several years to find and buy 
property, develop it, and establish your member- 
ship and financial base, there's really no end 
point. Like a marriage or a business, growing a 
community is never really "done." 

How Many People do You Need? 

Forming community groups usually start out 
with one or two or a few people with an idea, 
grow larger (fluctuating in size as people attend 
a few meetings for awhile and get more involved 
or lose interest and leave), and shrink to a much 
smaller number when it's time to commit money 
to buy a particular piece of property. 

See Figure 1 (on page 11) for some examples 
of how many people are involved in the commu- 
nities we'll examine in this book. 




Total Envisioned 

Members at Early 

Members at 

Members in 

# of Members 





Lost Valley 

Rural (OR) 
87 acres 

Founded 1988-89 


7 - 12 




Rural (NC) 
320 acres 
Founded 1990-94 



12 - 21 


Sowing Circle/ 
Occidental Arts & 
Ecology Center 

Semi-rural (CA) 
80 acres 

Founded 1991-94 


5 - 12 



Dancing Rabbit 

Rural (MO) 
280 acres 
Founded 1993-96 

500- 1000 

20 - 30 



Abundant Dawn 

Rural (VA) 
90 acres 

Founded 1994-96 





Mariposa Grove 

Urban (CA) 
Founded 1998-99 

12 - 13 




Rural (VT) 
Founded 1998-00 

50 - 75 

30 - 40 online 
20 in-person 





Newly forming spiritual communities seem to experi- 
ence more structural conflict than most groups; proba- 
bly because spiritual community founders sometimes 
tend towards a soft-focus, whole-picture orientation 
— what's popularly called "right-brained" thinking. This 
often frustrates and even repels other potential 
cofounders who may use more logical or systematic 
"left-brained" thinking. Like Sharon, founders of spiritu- 
al communities are sometimes accused of deceiving 
others about money and power issues, when in fact 
they simply hadn't focused on clear, explicit communi- 
cation about finances and decision-making, and didn't 
realize such clarity was necessary. These founders often 


by Roberta Wilson 

As fate would have it, Winslow Cohousing on 
Bainbridge Island near Seattle, formed in 1988, ended 
up being the first owner-developed cohousing com- 
munity in the U.S. We certainly didn't have much 
experience to go on. Only one of us had lived in an 
intentional community, and only a few had even 
visited any intentional communities. None of us had 

dismiss the primarily "left-brained" potential 
cofounders who could help them, considering them 
merely "bean counters," when the latter simply want to 
understand the financial, legal, and decision-making 
arrangements before they leap in wholeheartedly. 

If you operate more in right-brained mode, I urge 
you to ally yourself with more left-brained compadres 
who can help ground your community ideals in work- 
able business and legal strategies. And if you're a hard- 
core left-brainer, I urge you to hook up with more holis- 
tically oriented colleagues who will help you keep your 
heart open and help you remember why you want to 
bring forth this wonderful vision in the first place. 

— what cohousing activist Zev Paiss calls "the 
longest, most expensive personal-growth work- 
shop you'll ever take." 

Next we'll take a look at the kind of person 
who pulls it off — that unsung hero, the com- 
munity founder. 

seen cohousing in Denmark, and of course there were 
no models of it close to home. What we had was 
McCamant and Durrett's Cohousing book and an 
incredible amount of energy. 

As with all communities, we made some wise 
choices and some poor ones. We met every week- 
end for over two years, with many of us meeting in 

It doesn't just take information and skills, 
money, time, and people to form a community, 
but also a sense of connection, sometimes called 
"community glue" — born of group experiences 
like preparing and eating meals together, work 
parties, weekend trips, and long, intimate con- 
versations. Gathering and weaving the thread of 
skills, information, money, time, people, and 
experiences is complex, and often overwhelming 



committees during the week. This vigorous schedule 
allowed us to buy land, get through the construction 
process, and move into our 30 duplexes and flats by 
Spring 1992, but it cost us potential members who 
couldn't devote such time to development. Finding 
loans for what looked to financial institutions like 
some kind of middle-income commune was difficult 
and may have cost one credit union representative his 
job. The stress resulting from engaging some of our 
own members to work for us hurt the group and hurt 
some of these members as well. Our original group 
was deeply bonded by the sheer effort of the project. 
Yet, after move-in we retreated to our individual 
homes to recuperate. While our idealism had carried 
us through the forming stages, we weren't quite pre- 
pared for the reality of living cooperatively — so many 
of us were used to having our own way in the world. 

We also had the inevitable turnover. We had prob- 
lems with new residents who either had their own 
heroic notions, or who soared and then dove as the 
honeymoon phase ended. We had kids who couldn't 
get along, a dog that bit, divorces and deaths, births 
and celebrations. For the most part, our surrounding 
neighbors were friendly. We figured out a work sys- 
tem, each serving on clusters — Administration, 
Process and Communication, Grounds, and Common 
Facilities. We figured out a meal system, with dinners 
five nights a week. We figured out how to work with 
consensus. We learned to keep good track of our 
finances, and we continued to work towards emo- 
tional literacy. We still struggle with issues such as 
member participation and how to make capital 
improvements, yet our meetings are now civil, effi- 
cient, and more emotionally honest. Folks have found 
their own level after the first years of feeling over- 
whelmed. Some of them have been disappointed 

with the lack of emotional intimacy, while others, 
especially teens, have felt uncomfortable living in a 

At times, most of us have probably asked our- 
selves, "What am I doing here?" — a question, I 
believe, that arises from a complex calculation of 
time and energy spent and one's tolerance for con- 
flict. Sometimes I've asked myself, after a difficult 
confrontation, why I should put so much of my life 
energy into something that seems, at the time, to give 
back little. Yet I'm sure that at other times each of us 
has surely declared: "I can't imagine living anywhere 
else!" — a response to the very personal exchanges 
that make living in community so rewarding. I can call 
my neighbor and ask her to turn off the coffee pot 
that I forgot. Children come to visit and play with my 
dog. A neighbor pauses from her chores a moment 
and tells me about her life. In the forest, we scatter 
the ashes of a member who died; in our orchard, we 
bury the family dog. A neighbor's sister comes to stay 
and offers massages. The children are delivered to 
school by adults who share the duty. Our communi- 
ty feels safe. 

The idealism, dreams, and devotion, while still 
here, have given ground to the practical and the real 
experience of living in community — the good, the 
bad, and the ugly. Community is seeping into our 
cells, I believe, so that even the challenges become 
just part of who we each are. Cooperative culture is 
gaining ground over our individual upbringing in com- 
petition,- slowly, we are giving up the need for 
absolute control. We set out to change our world, and 
now community is changing us. 

Excerpted with permission from Communities 
Magazine, Spring 2000. 

^Chapter 2^> 

Your Role as Founder 


In 1991, as she and a group of people inter- 
ested in forming community in the mountains of 
western North Carolina began their land search, 
she sold her local business so she could devote 
full time to the project. To better understand the 
local real estate market and real estate financing, 
she studied for and got real estate sales and bro- 
kers' licenses, and took a job with a local realty 
company, which allowed the group to learn 
about any new properties as soon as they came 
on the market. 

She also contacted communitarians nation- 
wide, asking which legal entities they'd chosen for 
group land ownership, and why, and she learned 
as much as she could about the various legal enti- 
ties communities could use to own property 
together. She studied Community Land Trusts 
by making calls to the School of Living in 
Pennsylvania, and by visiting the Institute for 
Community Economics in Ohio, organizations 
that help groups set up Community Land Trusts. 
She eventually didn't recommend this specific 
form of land ownership to the group, and they 
later created a Homeowner's Association to own 
property and a 501(c)3 non-profit to carry out its 
educational mission. 

In 1993, the group found 320 acres of owner- 
financed land that fit most of their criteria. After 
the group spent over a year in confusion and con- 
flict about the community's ultimate vision, and 
whether or not to buy this particular property, 
Valerie drew up and submitted a contract on the 
land herself, with a loophole in case she needed 
to get out of it. She hosted a "founders meeting" 
of tea and fundraising, inviting group members 
who shared the same community vision, and an 
interest in this particular property, as well as 
other local people interested in forming an inten- 
tional community. By the end of the afternoon 
they had raised the $100,000 down payment. 

Over the next few months the group contin- 
ued adding members and raising funds to begin 
developing the property, and bought it in 
December 1994. 

The following year, Valerie visited the E. F. 
Schumacher Society in Massachusetts to learn 
how the group could create a small, private "shoe 
box bank" to raise funds. The group adopted this 
idea, created the EarthShares fund, and over the 
next few years raised enough money to pay off 
the owner-financers. 

Other founders of "successful ten percent" 
communities have traveled a similar path. Recent 
college graduates Tony Sirna and Cecil Scheib 



were environmental activists with degrees in 
computer science and civil engineering respec- 
tively, before founding Dancing Rabbit in 
Missouri. They educated themselves well in real 
estate, zoning regulations, financing possibilities, 
and non-profit legal structures to buy their land 
and create the financial and legal structures that 
support their ecovillage dream. 

In order to establish the Sowing Circle com- 
munity and its non-profit educational organiza- 
tion, Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, 
cofounder Dave Henson left his environmental 
activist job and spent eight months as the groups 
full-time point person. He researched possible 
property sites and sources of financing and 
donations, negotiated with the owner of their 
chosen site, and drafted and instituted various 
financial and legal plans through which to carry 
out their purpose. 

And Luc Reid, a software engineer and 
cofounder of Meadowdance community in 
Vermont, was an almost full-time on-line and 
off-line student of every aspect of community 
development he could find, learning as much as 
he could about what had and had not worked 
well in other recently formed communities. 

Contrast these folks with Sharon and 
Gracelight community. Well-meaning and moti- 
vated, Sharon nevertheless hadn't a clue that she 
needed to educate herself in new fields and 
develop new skills to pull off a task of this mag- 
nitude. Community founders must anticipate 
challenges not faced by community founders of 
earlier times. These include the fact that "ideal" 
property isn't ideal if zoning regulations and 
building codes prevent you from developing it 
the way you want to. If your group wants rural 
land, a lack of decent-paying local jobs will affect 
your community's attractiveness to future mem- 
bers. Difficulty attracting members will affect 

your ability to pay back any land purchase and 
development loans, so your group must con- 
sider your site relative to available jobs before 
buying land. And the initial impression your 
group makes on potential neighbors will 
affect whether they will support your getting 
any needed conditional use permits or zoning 

What Kind of Person Founds a 

Certain recognizable characteristics stand out in 
successful community founders, or at least 
among "burning souls" — a cohousing term for 
vision-driven founders who work zealously to 
manifest their dreams. 

Dianne Brause and Kenneth Mahaffey of 
Lost Valley are clearly burning souls. So are 
Valerie Naiman of Earthaven, Tony Sirna and 
Cecil Scheib of Dancing Rabbit, Dave Henson 
of Sowing Circle/OAEC, Luc Reid of 
Meadowdance, and other founders you'll meet in 
these pages. 

Founders need to be visionaries — people 
who can imagine, visualize, or feel something 
that doesn't exist yet. Most of the group seeing 
the Lost Valley property for the first time saw a 
dreary wreck; Kenneth and Dianne saw a thriv- 
ing community and well-appointed, successful 
conference center. 

Founders must be leaders — people who can 
inspire others to believe a particular vision is 
possible and who motivate them to take action 
and make that vision come true. The people who 
joined Dianne and Kenneth at Lost Valley 
wouldn't have jumped into that uncertain ven- 
ture, or worked so fiercely over the first year, 
without Dianne's and Kenneth's burning belief 
that Lost Valley would soon host successful 
workshops and conferences. 


Founders of "the ten percent" are often suc- 
cessful entrepreneurs, or have at least one experi- 
enced entrepreneur in their group. Technically 
an entrepreneur is someone with the ability to 
organize and manage a business, assuming the 
risk for the sake of the profit, but I'm referring 
mainly to the aspect of instinctive business savvy 
— someone with an inner "radar" about what 
will work financially. Entrepreneurs take risks, 
based as much on intuition as on experience. 
They take the initiative. They're focused, task- 
oriented, on-point. They know how to create 
budgets and strategic plans. Kenneth Mahaffey 
was a successful real estate investor before 
cofounding Lost Valley; he took an enormous 
risk buying property that might require paying 
$50,000 of back taxes and might not have the 
necessary use permit restored. Valerie Naiman 
had been a successful movie costume designer 
and owner of a retail costume shop; she took a 
huge risk by selling her business and investing 
time and money to pursue legal structures and 
real estate for an untested, non- mainstream proj- 
ect, then investing substantial sums in 
Earthaven's down payment and EarthShares 
fund. Not all people with this ability use it to 
make money. Dave Henson, who has entrepre- 
neurial savvy in spades, was a fairly well-known 
and effective environmental activist before 
cofounding the Sowing Circle/OAEC project. 

And lastly, founders must be physical 
builders — people who know how to alter their 
property to help create their vision, from reno- 
vating a building to digging ponds, building cab- 
ins, or erecting solar panels. Kenneth Mahaffey 
and Dianne Brause and the first members threw 
themselves into cleaning and renovating the Lost 
Valley property, as did Dave Henson and his fel- 
low cofounders at Sowing Circle/OAEC. As 
soon as they'd purchased their properties, Valerie 

Naiman and the cofounders of Earthaven, and 
Tony Sirna and Cecil Schaub and the 
cofounders of Dancing Rabbit, immediately 
began building roads, setting up camping areas, 
and creating the first rudimentary shelters on 
their undeveloped parcels of land. 

Vision, leadership, entrepreneurial skill, and 
willingness to physically build must be present in 
your group, but not necessarily all in the same 
person. As founders you must certainly have 
vision — without which nothing will happen. 
You'll need leadership to inspire yourselves and 
those who'll join you to support that vision. 
You'll need one or more entrepreneurs who 
know what will work financially, and who are 
willing to take a risk — and thus inspire the rest 
of you to take a risk. And you'll need to get phys- 
ical on the land to turn your vision into reality. 

Given these "ingredients," here's my recipe for 
growing an intentional community: 

1. Imagine, visualize, or feel something that 
doesn't exist yet. 

2. Inspire yourselves and those that join you to 
believe your particular vision is possible and 
you can make it happen. 

3. Use entrepreneurial skills to do all this with- 
in your estimated budget and time frame 
(revising either as necessary). 

4. Use labor, tools, and energy to create the 
physical expression of your vision on your 

What Else You'll Need 

Your group will also need patience, faith, good 
communication skills, tenacity, and the willing- 
ness to acknowledge each other. 

• Have patience. Forming an effective 
working group, learning good decision- 


making and group process skills, 
researching your options, acquiring and if 
necessary developing property simply 
takes time — from one to several years, 
depending on the scale of your plans, how 
many are in your group, how well capital- 
ized you are, and other factors. 
Regardless of how everyone in your 
group would like things to progress more 
quickly, they probably won't. You'll also 
need to consider the timetables of others 
involved, including lawyers, zoning offi- 
cials, and lenders. Elana Kann and Bill 
Fleming, project managers for Westwood 
Cohousing in Asheville, North Carolina, 
warn that founders must understand and 
accept the difference between what is and 
what is not in their control. Elana and 
Bill observe that probably 95 percent of 
the major variables involved in a forming 
community are not in the founders' con- 
trol — land value and availability, banks' 
lending policies, and city or county zon- 
ing regulations. To make expectations 
more realistic and reduce anxiety, some 
experienced community founders recom- 
mend taking your most optimistic timing 
estimate at the beginning of your project 
and doubling it. 

• Faith. Trust that it's meant to be, that 
you're being guided by a higher power. 
Dianne Brause would have been over- 
whelmed by fear and a sense of responsi- 
bility in what she and Kenneth and the 
others were attempting to pull off, but 
was repeatedly saved by her willingness to 
trust that it was meant to be. 'After so 
many synchronistic events that didn't fit 
the scientific odds, I chose to act as if 
some higher force was really in charge, 

that the project was really a kind of 
sacred trust that we were privileged to 
take on," she recalls. "This belief allowed 
me to trust that things were actually 
being taken care of." Other founders have 
relayed similar stories of trust and 
courage in the face of what seemed like 
overwhelming odds against their project. 

• Good communication skills. Your group 
will no doubt find strength in your mem- 
bers' diversity, yet that can also be a chal- 
lenge. You'll need to learn how to hear 
and accept perspectives quite different 
from your own. Besides obvious differ- 
ences of gender, age, economic circum- 
stances, or spiritual or religious orienta- 
tion, you may differ widely in your com- 
munication styles and in your needs for 
safety, self expression, recognition, and 
connection. Some will express themselves 
intensely, and often. Some will share how 
they feel; others will consider bringing up 
feelings irrelevant or annoying. Some will 
want to gather data, consider options, 
and plan extensively, while others will 
want to dispense with talking and "get on 
with it." In fact, the kinds of people 
attracted to forming community are typi- 
cally explorers, doers, risk-takers, and 
entrepreneurs — and as such, likely to be 
impatient with the nuances of skilled 
group process or consensus decision 

• Tenacity. You'll need determination and 
stamina. The ability to hold to a vision 
and persevere has made all the difference 
between groups that built their commu- 
nities and those that felt too discouraged 
to continue. Sometimes it will seem like 
the process is going well and moving for- 


ward; other times it'll feel like you're 
stopped at every turn. Keep your eyes on 
the goal, lean into the wind, and keep 

• Willingness to acknowledge others. 

You'll need to thank and acknowledge 
each other many times for ideas, propos- 
als, legwork, research, patience, living 
room meeting space, snacks, tea, and 
childcare. There's no faster way to slow 
down progress than burnout, which usu- 
ally results from too many long hours of 
contributing to a common cause without 
recognition or acknowledgment. You're 
all essentially volunteers — gifting the 
group with your time and life energy to 
fulfill your vision. You're going to need to 
feed each other with the basic nourish- 
ment that keeps volunteers going — the 
simple courtesy of heartfelt thanks. 

"If Only I Had Known!" 

"Why would anyone want to go through all this?" 
exclaimed Patricia Greene, after she'd given her 
heart and soul to forming a new community that 
disbanded after the first year. 

Why don't they just join one?" ask some 
long-time activists in the communities move- 
ment. "So many communities have already 
done all the start-up work, why do that all over 
again?" Most community activists have met 
scores of shiny-eyed idealists sharing 
grandiose-sounding plans for community who 
clearly have no idea how much hard, humbling 
work is involved. 

And it's true — growing a new community is 
at least as difficult as it is rewarding. I've heard 

more than one founder say: "If I'd had any idea 
how hard this would be I never would have done 
it!" After a pause, however, they usually add with 
a smile, "Thank God I didn't know, though, 
because here we are." 

"Be careful what you tell your readers about 
forming community," warns a friend who lived 
for years at a permaculture-based community in 
New England. "Don't be so realistic about the 
process that you scare them off." He told me if I 
really wanted to help potential community 
founders achieve their goals, maybe I should say 
relatively little, so I don't discourage anyone 
who'd otherwise just plunge in and figure it out 
as they went along, as most community founders 
do. Whatever your level of interest in forming a 
new community, it's my hope that after reading 
this book you'll either say, "Great, I'm inspired. 
Let's get started," or, "Whew, I'm glad I found that 
out. I'll join one instead!" 

I know a fine couple whom any community 
would covet as members. He's a carpenter, she's a 
writer. Both are lively, intelligent, spiritually 
inspired individuals who have decades of previ- 
ous community experience between them. But 
no community they've visited has seemed quite 
right, in its location, its financial arrangements, 
or in its qualities of spiritual and intellectual 
"juice." I don't think this couple is too picky. 
They know just what they want and they haven't 
found it yet. I think they're simply community 
founders at heart. And you may be too. 

So let's move on. Next chapter — getting your 
group off to a good start. 



"We're Creating Something More Than 
Mere Housing Here" 

by Virginia Lore 

It is Sunday, which means that we will spend three to 
four hours today with our cohousins partners, talking 
about pavers and concrete mosaics, our new waiting 
list policy and how to save the birch trees on the west 
end of the property. About 40 of us will crowd into 
Kurt and Kara's living room, and, using colored cards, 
will make decisions in nine minutes that would have 
taken Kevin and me two days to debate. Small chil- 
dren will wander up from the childcare area down- 
stairs for whispered consultations with their parents. 
They will be sent back down when the conversation 
gets too intense. Sometimes I'll go down with them. 
The intensity almost always gives me a headache. 

There is plenty to be intense about. We're six 
months away from move-in, and the walls are being 
framed. We're one household away from full member- 
ship. Since Kevin and I joined this summer, we've seen 
five households join and one household withdraw. Our 
affiliate membership process is rigorous, and unit selec- 
tion is based on the date of affiliate membership. These 
decisions have not been made without introspection, 
earnest discussion (mediation in two cases), and tears. 

There are times when I would rather be anywhere 
than in another cohousing meeting. Today, for exam- 
ple. If I were less committed, I'd be home on the 
couch, eating popcorn and watching The Big Chill. So 
why will I go to the meeting instead? 

I will go partly because I've skipped the last two 
weeks. Most of us have to take an occasional break 
from the fervor of the construction process. I have no 
qualms about trusting the community to make deci- 
sions, which will ultimately be best for the sum of us. 

I will go partly because I want to see people. I 

miss the folks I don't see on the development com- 
mittee. I want to see how much Eleanor has grown in 
the last two weeks, to hug Mem, and to find out how 
Bruce and Karen are enjoying the group. I look forward 
to Ethel's earthy laugh, Kurt's jokes, and to watching 
from across the room as Meg puts a quilt together. 

Mostly, however, I will go out of faith. Cohousing 
is now both my religion and my politics. I continue to 
ask myself "Is this best for the group?" before putting 
up my green "Yes" card in response to a proposal, 
because I sense we are creating something larger than 
mere housing here. 

If there is a cathedral for this new church of ours, 
it is the land. We have watched as the land was 
cleared and the grading completed. We have seen the 
retaining wall built — the earth pinned into place by 
grouting and rebar, held by shotcrete. We have 
watched from the street above the site the installation 
of the footings, the pouring of foundations. We have 
watched the units at the far end go up first — we've 
witnessed the snaky white neoprene tubing laid for 
the radiant floor heating, and come back to the meet- 
ings to tell each other, "They've started framing!" 

This is what keeps me going to the meetings: in six 
months we will be neighbors, part of something 
we've all built together. If our process makes us more 
loving, unselfish and useful to each other, that is only 
to be expected. In this community, we will not only 
have potlucks and hold babies, but we will practice 
gentleness, honesty, love and compassion in a tribal 
setting. We'll have a place to eat, work, and make 
music among folks we have learned to trust, and it is 
this we will offer to the world around us. 

It is as if we are both watching a miracle happen 
and creating it at the same time. Could there be any 
better way to spend a Sunday? 

Excerpted with permission from 
Communities magazine, Spring 2000. 

^Chapter 3^> 

Getting Off to a Good Start 

meeting to talk about forming a new com- 
munity. Where do you start? 

I suggest starting with a general overview of 
the basic steps involved in growing an intention- 
al community. You could begin by asking every- 
one in your in your group to skim through this 
book then read it more thoroughly later on, and 
then read some of the recommended resources 
for more in-depth information. 

There is also a wealth of information to be 
found on community websites. You'll find photos 


Visiting communities can bring a sense of reality to the 
project — and hone your sense of what you want, and 
don't want, in your community. I suggest contacting any 
communities you'd like to visit ahead of time and asking 
whether they welcome visitors. Ask if you can offer sev- 
eral hours' labor when you visit them, as communities 
always need extra labor for work projects, and your 
being willing to work will make them more likely to invite 
you. Bring old clothes, work gloves, and food to share. 
You'll learn much and will probably have a great time. Be 
sure to send a thank-you note afterwards. 

of communities, vision statements, lists of values 
and goals, outlines of community processes, and 
community histories. By browsing community 
websites you'll get a wonderful sense of the rich and 
varied possibilities for community organization. 

Visiting communities is another excellent 
way to empower your community dreams with 
real-life reality checks. I also suggest talking with 
as many founders as you can, of both communi- 
ties that are thriving, as well as those that are 
struggling or didn't work out. My hope is that 
you'll begin your community journey with a 
great deal of information and increasingly realis- 
tic expectations. 

While the following chapters describe steps 
community founders can take, don't assume 
these steps are linear. The process of growing a 
community is more organic — simultaneously 
ongoing and step by step. See Table 2 for an idea 
of what this can mean. 

Cohousing communities have a slightly dif- 
ferent process from other communities. Some 
additional key steps can include partnering with 
a developer, raising development financing, get- 
ting a construction loan, and securing individual 
mortgages. (See Chapter 12.) This is an increas- 
ingly popular model of intentional community 
in which people develop, build, and manage their 




Develop good communication skills > ongoing > 

Learn to deal well with conflict > ongoing > 

(Chapters 17-18) 

Organize your 
group > 

(Chapter 3) 

Create your 




(Chapter 4-5) 

Research the 
real estate 
market in your 
desired area 

zoning issues in 
your desired 
area: possible 
costs to get 
exceptions if 

needed > 

(Chapter 11) 

Learn your 
options: figure 
out your group's 

power > 

(Chapter 12) 

Develop or 
renovate your 
property as 


(Chapters 9-10) 


(Chapter 13) 

Research com- 
munities: Learn 
as much as you 
can about how 
founders formed 

them > 

(All chapters) 


method: choose 
(and learn how 
to use them) 


(chapter 6) 

Choose a loca- 
tion: create site 

criteria > 

(Chapter 9-10) 

Choose & set 
up your legal 
entity. > 

(Chap's 8, 15-16) 

Conduct your 
choose your 

property > 

(Chapters 9-10) 

Finance and 
buy your 


(Chapter 12) 


Organize your 
finances (and 
reorganize as 


(Chapter 14) 

Create community agreements & documents > ongoing > 

(Chapter 7) 

Choose new people to join you > ongoing > 

(Chapter 19) 

*Remember, most of the above steps are not linear, but can overlap. 

own neighborhoods. They live in smaller-than- 
normal housing units and share ownership of 
community areas, usually including a common 
green, a garden space, and a large common build- 
ing with a kitchen and dining room, children's 

play area, laundry facilities, and guest rooms. 
Members optionally share dinners together sev- 
eral evenings a week, and usually make decisions 
by consensus. 


Don't Run Out and Buy Land — Yet 

Many people interested in starting a community 
assume the first thing you should do is buy land. 
Even though a beautiful piece of property can be 
tempting, buying your property first is generally 
not a good idea — and can be a huge risk for con- 
flict later because all the necessary structures 
haven't been put in place. I advise against it 
unless you've taken the following steps: 

1. One person or a small group already has the 
necessary funds to buy it, and can cover its 
mortgage payments for a year or so. 

2. The person or small group has set up an 
appropriate legal entity for property owner- 
ship, or sets it up soon after. 

3. The documents of the legal entity (or other 
community documents) spell out the rela- 
tionship of each future member's financial 
contribution toward ownership and deci- 
sion-making rights, whether people will have 
equity in the property, and other financial 

4. The individual or small group buying the 
property have agreed on the vision for the 
community and have created its vision 

Property and Housing 

• Buy or rent several houses on the same block and 
share backyards; turn one into a community buildins. 

• Buy or rent a larse house and turn some of its rooms 
into common areas. 

• Rent apartments in an apartment buildins; turn one 
apartment into shared common community space. 

• Buy an apartment buildins (or buy several housins 
units in a planned community, condominium, or hous- 
ins co-op) and do the same. 

• Buy land with an existins house or houses (or an 
office buildins, retail store, factory buildins, ware- 
house, theater, church, or motel) and turn it into hous- 
ins ar| d common areas. 

• Buy a former conference center or camp and do the 

• Buy raw land and start from scratch. 

• The community can own the whole property and 
lease housins facilities or homesites to members. 

• Members can hold title to their individual housins 
units or lots and houses, and share ownership of com- 
mon land and community buildinss. 

Degree of Closeness 

• Community members can be closely involved in 
each other's lives — sharins living space or kitchens, 
living in close proximity, sharins equipment and tools, 
or havins a car co-op. 

• Members can be less involved — living in separate 
housins units or in separate houses (in clustered hous- 
ins, in more widely spaced but still clustered housins, 
or on separate lots), or sharins fewer resources in 

Degree of Financial Interdependence 

• Community members can work for community busi- 
nesses (and/or outside businesses), share incomes, 
and share a common treasury. 

• They can have a hybrid economy — workins for 
community businesses and sharins profits for food, 
housins, medical insurance and other necessities, but 
keepins any outside earninss or assets separate. 

• They can have fully independent incomes, and share 
some or many community expenses. 


documents, and anyone joining subse- 
quently must necessarily agree to this 
vision. Or these will be created by the ini- 
tial buyers and the people joining them 
soon after — but none of the new people will 
put their money in until the vision is fully 
agreed upon and written down, and every- 
one knows what it is they're agreeing to 

Why all these safeguards should be in place 
will become clear as you read on. 

When You Already Own the Property 

Many aspiring community founders are people 
who'd like to turn their family-owned land into 
an intentional community or groups of friends 
who have just purchased land together and ask 
"Now what?" 

If your group has already purchased land, 
every chapter in this book is still relevant to your 
situation, except perhaps Chapter 10 on finding 
the right property and Chapter 12 on financing 
it. Definitely read "Legal Barriers to Sustainable 
Development" and "Shopping for Counties — 
Zoning Regulations, Building Codes, 
Sustainable Homesteads, and Jobs" in Chapter 9, 
as well as Chapter 11 on zoning — you still may 
have these issues to deal with. 

Frankly, property owners who want to turn 
their already-owned land into the site for an 
intentional community often have the greatest 
challenge, even though it may seem as if they 
have already overcome the largest hurdle. When 
one or more people are the owner-landlords and 
the rest are tenants, or when a land-based busi- 
ness is also involved and one or more people are 
the owner-employers and the rest employees, 
there's an imbalance of power. The owners have 
enormous power over everyone else, who can be 

evicted or fired at any time. And the owners have 
privileges the others probably do not, such as, for 
example, the right to all financial knowledge con- 
cerning the property or business, and the right to 
enter or lock others out of any building on the 

The owners often have a genuine desire to 
experience a sense of community in the group, as 
well as a strong desire to retain control over all 
aspects of property use and any activities which 
could affect property value — since, after all they 
bear sole financial risk for it. But these two 
desires are essentially incompatible. You can't 
simultaneously have "community" and total con- 
trol over the whole property. This situation often 
resembles a "feudal lord and serfs" situation. 
People move there believing the place is a com- 
munity, yet have no financial/legal risk or respon- 
sibility and no real decision-making power, even 
when the landlord/ employers may have set up 
some kind of "consensus" process (which they 
can of course override anytime). Not to mention 
that the tenants/employees may consciously or 
unconsciously resent the owners for having all 
the power. Or that the owners may truly believe 
they don't want power over anyone — but are 
unwilling to relinquish it until or unless others 
shoulder their load of the financial, legal, main- 
tenance, and other responsibilities. Or that how- 
ever benign the owners, the others may project 
all kinds of parental/authority-figure issues onto 
them, further clouding the issue. Such inadver- 
tent "fiefdoms" tend to repel competent, solvent, 
and informed community seekers, yet attract 
people with few skills and limited funds who are, 
perhaps unconsciously, seeking a generous "par- 
ent" to take care of them. The owners end up 
functioning like a substitute mom or dad — 
whether or not they welcome the role — with a 
passel of community "children" to look after. 


This isn't community — no matter how badly 
everyone wants it! 

A situation like this can work, however, when 
there are agreements about how people can buy 
in to property ownership and how the size of 
their financial contribution (equal shares? 
unequal shares?) relates to decision- making 
rights. There must also be a legal entity for own- 
ing the property together, which ideally outlines 
these agreements in its bylaws or operating 
agreements. (See Chapter 9.) The group must 
also find a way to legally protect the owner from 
the ongoing financial and legal responsibilities 
such as mortgage payments, property taxes, 
insurance, and maintenance costs, and legally 
share these responsibilities, such as through a 
Triple Net Lease document. (See Chapter 12.) 

What if some or all potential community 
members cannot afford the entire buy-in fee at 
once, but can make a down payment and mort- 
gage payments over time? One solution would be 
for the owner to become the owner-financer — 
the "bank" — and set up promissory notes with 
each person. (See Chapter 12.) 

What if the property is worth so much 
money, say, several million dollars, that the 
owner cannot find enough (or any) other poten- 
tial community members who, even with owner- 
financing, can afford to buy in and equally share 
property ownership? One solution could be to 
subdivide a smaller portion of the property and 
make it available to shared group ownership. 
Another possibility is individual member owner- 
ship of separate lots (or a cohousing-type 
arrangement with individually owned housing 
units and shared common property). A clause in 
community membership documents could out- 
line members' rights and responsibilities about 
using and enjoying the adjoining larger property. 
The owner would still own and control the 

expensive property, and could be one member 
among many in shared ownership of the subdi- 
vided property. 

What if the owner wants to preserve the 
property in perpetuity as wilderness, or farm- 
land, or community, for example, and doesn't 
mind taking a financial loss in terms of the right 
to sell it one day at full market value? The owner 
can place a conservation easement on the prop- 
erty or create a land trust or community land 
trust before seeking like-minded fellow mem- 
bers. (See Chapter 16.) 

If you're a property owner seeking to create 
community on your land, please take these issues 
into account. Be willing to release total control 
and find ways for people to become fully partici- 
pating, responsibility-sharing fellow community 
members. And if you cannot or don't want to 
release full control but still want live in close 
proximity with others, please do so and enjoy it 
— but don't advertise it as "community"! 

Organizing Your Group 

Following are some start-up suggestions and rec- 
ommendations from other founders: 

Decide how often you'll meet, and where. It 

helps to schedule meetings on the same day at 
regular intervals, for example, every Sunday from 
1:30 to 5:00. You might begin by meeting 
monthly or every other week, but when you 
begin exploring financial and legal options and 
start your land search, you'll most likely need to 
meet weekly, with smaller committees working 
on various tasks between meetings. 

At the same time, you'll need to be flexible in 
your expectations about meeting participation. 
Weekly meetings can become tiresome, especial- 
ly for parents of small children. Some groups 
have found ways to make participation easier for 


people, by arranging for childcare during meet- 
ings, sending meeting agendas out ahead of time, 
or using e-mail or phone surveys to gather input 
and ideas. Since some people will have consider- 
ably more time to devote to the project than oth- 
ers, some groups have created an internal "time 
bank" system of credits for hours spent in meet- 
ings, committee work, and research tasks. The 
general idea is that each member "owes" the com- 
munity a certain number of credits over a period 
of several years. This way people who can't offer 
much project time in the present have the oppor- 
tunity to make up for it later. 

Choose a decision-making method; decide how 
you'll run meetings. If you chose consensus as 
your decision-making method, get trained in it 
as a group, or you could end up operating from 
widely divergent assumptions about how it's 
done, or crippling your meetings with "pseudo- 
consensus." (See Chapter 6.) 

You'll also need to decide how meetings will 
be run. Most groups learn, after time, to allow 
newcomers and visitors to offer ideas and opin- 
ions, but to limit decision-making rights to group 
members. Some suggestions and information 
about conducting meetings are offered below. 

• Facilitation. Having a facilitator can make 
all the difference in how productively and 
smoothly your meetings run. You can 
arrange for one or more group members 
to be trained in facilitation, or you can 
have all members take a facilitation work- 
shop, and rotate the role in your group. 
You could also exchange meeting facilita- 
tion with other communities or with 
forming-community groups in your area. 

• Agendas. Having meeting agendas created 
ahead of time and sent out to everyone in 
your group before meetings makes a huge 

difference in how well your meetings 
function. Agenda planners schedule each 
item for discussion in a particular meet- 
ing, and note expected amounts of dis- 
cussion time for each. People won't be 
able to attend every meeting, and know- 
ing what topics will be decided or dis- 
cussed ahead of time allows them to 
attend particular meetings, based on their 
own priorities. 

• Evaluation. Allow time at the end of the 
meeting for evaluation, listing on a large 
piece of easel paper what you did well and 
what could have been better. Doing this 
regularly will help your group improve 
communication and meeting skills. 

• Minutes. Decide who will take notes or 
minutes, what you'll include in them, how 
they'll be distributed, and by whom. 
Encourage people in your group who are 
good at taking minutes to do it regularly. 
Distribute the completed minutes to 
everyone by e-mail and/or postal mail. 

Decide on some general principles for your 
community. As a preliminary step, and as prepa- 
ration for your later visioning process, ask your- 
selves what are the general principles upon 
which you'll base your community. Define your 
bottom lines in terms of: 

• Potential location and relationship to the 
land (urban or rural, small gardens or 
large farming operation, and so on). 

• Preferred distances from cities, major 
airports, educational resource centers 
such as colleges or universities, wilderness 
or recreation areas, and other places 
important to your group. 

• Lifestyle issues (whether you'll have diet 
preferences, or will be oriented to single 



Here's what Sowins Circle founders asreed on and 

wrote down as their principles: 


We'll support an educational center. 


We'll be non-dosmatic and diverse. 


We're not attached to any one lifestyle, diet, or 

spiritual purpose. 


We'll consider each person in a couple relationship 

as a single, individual member. 


We'll each make equal financial contributions and 

have equal shares of ownership. 


We'll each have equal decision-making rights and 

each contribute equal amounts of labor. 


We'll share expenses and reduce our level of 


people, families with children, or multiple 
generations; pet issues; sexual orientation 
and gender issues; drug-use issues). 

• Preferred financial set up (whether 
everyone will contribute the same or dif- 
ferent amounts, or contributions will be 
tied to decision-making rights; or which 
expenses the community might share). 

• Spiritual issues (whether you'll have a 
preferred spiritual orientation or practice, 
be spiritually eclectic, or secular). 

• Political issues (whether you'll be 
activists, or will support politically active 

• Educational issues (whether you'll offer 
classes, or will be a model and demon- 
strate site, and so on). 

Create a preliminary financial model. As noted 
in Chapter 1, you'll need to create a rough finan- 
cial model to get a general idea of the amount of 
money to raise. Read Chapters 9 through 16 to 

get a sense of the steps involved. Then consider 
your probable type of location (urban, suburban, 
semi-rural, or rural), your preferred area and cur- 
rent property values there, and whether you'll 
seek raw land, developed property, or a fully 
developed turn-key property, in order to esti- 
mate likely down payment and mortgage costs. 
Also estimate the costs of attracting more mem- 
bers (if applicable), creating your legal entity, 
searching for likely properties and investigating 
the best ones, and any property development or 
renovation. Divide these by your estimated final 
number of members for a rough estimate of how 
much the project may cost each member house- 
hold. If you don't have information for some of 
these variables, take your best guess. Compare 
this information with your group's probable 
assets and borrowing power (see "Getting Real 
About Finances"). As noted earlier, if the num- 
bers are too high, revise your assumptions (for 
example about your desired location or number 
of members), and try again. 

Work out a preliminary timeline. Ask your- 
selves the length of time in which you'd ideally 
like to accomplish everything necessary to move 
to community and set up your physical infra- 
structure. Creating a preliminary timeline based 
on this estimate will provide a baseline for com- 
paring your expectations to the reality as it 
unfolds. You will most likely need to revise it 
many times as you progress through the steps. 

Timelines, like budgets and flow charts, are 
planning tools to help you anticipate what might 
be needed at various points, and to give your- 
selves a series of small goals to help you achieve 
larger milestones. Timelines can also be helpful 
by serving as a kind of visualization tool. It's the 
process of planning — not necessarily any given 
plan — that's important. 


Create a decision log. A record of decisions is an 
invaluable reference. Update it frequently, post a 
copy on the wall before meetings, make copies 
available for members to take with them. Give a 
copy to each new member who joins the group. 

When a group doesn't create a decision log. 
people tend to continually revisit the decisions 
that have already been made, which wastes time 
and drains the group's energy. Stand by your 
decisions and resist the temptation to revise pre- 
vious decisions because new group members 
may want something else. It's fine to revisit a 
decision when there is a good reason to do so, 
but don't do it frivolously. (See Appendix 2 for 
Buffalo Creek's decision log.) 

Agree on criteria for group membership. What 
qualifies someone to become a decision-making 
member of your group? Are there a minimum 
number of functions or meetings newcomers 
must attend before having decision-making 
rights? (See Chapter 18.) Many groups find that 
a small, non-refundable financial investment 
($100 or so), and/ or a smaller dues fee of perhaps 
$10 a month tends to generate group commit- 
ment and helps separate out the mildly curious. 

Identify your vision and create your vision doc- 
uments. The light that will guide all your efforts, 
this will be one of your first major tasks as a 
group. (See Chapters 4 and 5.) 

Keep accurate financial records. In the begin- 
ning you'll probably have minor expenses such as 
refreshments, copying, and postage costs. As you 
become more committed, expenses might 
include consensus facilitation training, expenses 
associated with visiting communities or attend- 
ing communities conferences, and so on. While 
more significant expenses will arise later, you'll 

need to decide at the outset how to keep finan- 
cial records, taking into account how much dues 
or financial contributions will be. and whether 
any part of these are refundable, and so on. 

Begin writing community policies and agree- 
ments. At some point you'll need to draft agree- 
ments and policies, with regard to financial 
expectations, communication processes, behav- 
ioral norms, and other issues. Some of these 
you'll need now as a forming-community group; 
others later, as shared owners of your property. 
(See Chapter 7.) 

Help each other stay accountable. Before long 
you'll need to draft documents and budgets, visit 
properties, and research financing options, zoning 
regulations, and other matters. You'll probably 
assign yourselves tasks and completion dates, as 
many of these tasks will need to be completed by 
a particular date so the group can take the next 
step. Yet. because unexpected work or family com- 
mitments or the inability to manage time wisely, 
people often don't do what they say they will, with 
negative consequences for the group. You'll need 
relatively painless, guilt-free ways to help you stay 
accountable to each other, such as task reviews, 
task wall charts, buddy systems, and other means. 
Sowing Circle founders agreed that one person 
would call each person to ask if he or she had 
completed their tasks. It was set up as an official 
tracking system, not a criticism, so no one would 
feel singled out. (See Chapter 17.) 

Establish guidelines for group process. This 
means making decisions cooperatively, communi- 
cating honestly, and holding each other account- 
able for responsibilities. It means giving feedback 
and asking for change without making each other 
wrong, and facing and resolving conflict. 


While many groups don't deal with these 
issues until they're forced to, I believe learning 
these skills early in your group life is one of the 
most significant aspects of creating a healthy 
community. Some groups set aside a separate 
meeting once a month where members can 
openly express their frustrations or concerns 
and seek to resolve them. Some amount of con- 
flict is normal and expected. It's important to 
create a conflict resolution plan and practice it 
before you have any significant conflict, like hav- 

ing a fire drill before you have a real fire. (See 
Chapters 17 and 18.) 

Identify goals, record and celebrate your 
progress. Groups, like individuals, feel energized 
and successful when they see themselves pro- 
gressing steadily toward their goals. To help 
focus your efforts, you can write down each of 
your goals on a timeline chart (for example, cre- 
ating your visioning documents, getting consen- 
sus training, creating your site criteria). Post the 


Bill Fleming, a cohousins founder, cautions communi- 
ty groups against using "magical thinking," a term for a 
belief common to four-year olds in which simply 
imagining something means it will happen. "Mommy, I 
can fly to the moon!" 

Community founders engage in magical thinking 
when they disdain facts and research gathered by 
other members on, say, legal options or environmen- 
tal issues, and consider the research results to be mere 
opinions, no more valid than anyone else's. Magical 
thinking is in play when people distrust the process of 
counting or measuring anything to predict likely out- 
comes (acres, square feet, years, dollars, amounts of 
principal and interest) in favor of intuitive guesses and 
inner guidance, or by dismissing tools such as budg- 
ets and business plans as being "oppressive" or 
"restricting our creative flow." 

This is related to the pervasive anti-business feel- 
ing which is common in communities — distrust or 
outright fear of financial planning, borrowing money, 
interest on loans, contracts and written agreements, 
corporations and other legal entities, and the like. I 
can understand it. In my younger years I was against 

anything remotely related to business, multinational 
corporations, or the government. Like many other 
countercultural folk, I was also intimidated by tools 
and processes used by the mainstream, didn't under- 
stand how they worked, and turned them into sym- 
bols of everything I rejected. 

But over time I learned not to mistake the tool for 
the motivation. I learned "business" is not the same 
thing as deceitful business practices, money is not the 
same thing as domination and the lust for power, legal 
structures are not the same as corporate greed. 

Every community formed since the early 1990s 
that I know of, has been motivated by a spiritual 
impulse and/or by environmental and social justice 
concerns. Their founders learned to understand and 
use tools also used by mainstream culture — creating 
legal entities, buying property, borrowing money, 
paying interest — in order to create viable alternatives 
to mainstream culture. They use these tools to help 
create the kind of world where people share 
resources, make decisions cooperatively, and are 
mindful of their relationships with the Earth, their plant 
and animal relations, and each other. 

I urge you to do the same. 


chart on the wall before meetings, estimating the 
date by which you'd like to accomplish each goal. 
Highlight or circle each goal as you achieve it. 
Revise the timeline often, since it probably won't 
be accurate for long, but always show your 
already-achieved goals. Celebrate when you 
reach certain milestones; honor and acknowledge 
what you've done. Creating community is a huge 
undertaking, yet here you are doing it, step by 
measurable step. 

Getting Real about Finances 

One of the most common pitfalls for forming- 
community groups is unrealistic expectations 
about how much it will cost. To become familiar 
with the kinds of expenses associated with buy- 
ing and developing community property, read 
Chapters 9 throughl2 on locating, buying, and 
financing community land (and keep in mind 
that these prices will most likely be higher now). 
You can get an overview of property prices in the 
area you're considering by looking in the real 
estate sections of the papers or calling a few real- 
ty companies there. 

How much can you contribute? At some point 
you'll then need to discuss your individual finan- 
cial situations openly, including whatever income 
or assets you each could make available to the 
project. People are reluctant to share their per- 
sonal financial information for many reasons — 
normally it's no one else's business, and it violates 
a cultural taboo. Wealthier people are often 
reluctant to discuss their finances for fear of 
making themselves vulnerable to reactions rang- 
ing from resentment to outright violence, while 
those with fewer assets wish to avoid pity or even 
dismissal by others. 

Here's an exercise you can use to begin the 
discussion while preserving everyone's financial 

privacy. Write the following on a sheet of easel 
paper and hang it where everyone can see it: 

A: Down Payment/Development. Amount 
you could pay as an equal financial contribu- 
tion for the down payment and property 

B: Monthly Member Assessments. Amount 
you could pay on an ongoing basis as month- 
ly member assessment fee for property pay- 
ments (principal and interest on any loan(s) 
for property acquisition; property taxes, 
insurance, repair and maintenance fund). 

C: Potential Private Loans. (If applicable) 
Amount you could make available to the 
group as a private loan for property purchase 
and development. 

Hand out identical pieces of paper and ask 
each person to write down an amount for A, B, 
and if applicable to them, C, without identifying 
themselves. Collect the papers, add up each 
amount, and write these totals on the easel 
paper. Without anyone's feeling embarrassed, 
you can get a general sense of what your group 
can afford at this point. 

If you're like most groups, you'll probably 
need to borrow money for property acquisition, 
thus your other financial baseline is your group's 
total borrowing power. Two exercises in 
"Assessing Your Potential Borrowing Power" (see 
Chapter 10) can help you figure this out easily. 

At some point, members will need to stop 
being anonymous and let the group know how 
much each may be able to contribute to the 
down payment and other land-purchase expens- 
es, and everyone's potential borrowing power. I 
suggest having general discussions first, then 


schedule a discussion at a subsequent meeting 
where you'll tell how much you could contribute, 
so everyone will have a chance to think about it 
ahead of time. 

No doubt a few group members will have far 
greater assets than most others, and some will 
have far less. More affluent members will be able 
to contribute more money than others, either as 
the project's required contribution, or as a private 
loan (and sometimes, though it's rare, as an out- 
right donation to the project). Keep in mind that 
your group will have several choices with regard 
to handling contributions to the property pur- 
chase and development. Some examples include: 

• You can each pay equal contributions, 
and tie those contributions to equal prop- 
erty ownership rights and responsibilities 
and decision- making rights, as Sowing 
Circle/OAEC founders did. 

• The community could pay for its proper- 
ty purchase and development with loaned 
funds, with no requirement for a buy-in 
fee, and all members could pay monthly 
fees that reimburse the loan(s), as 
Dancing Rabbit did. 

• You could gather equal contributions 
from founders that guaranteed the right 
to build on a plot of land, as Earthaven 
founders did. 

• One member could buy the property, and 
essentially loan this amount to the other 
group members, who would pay the 
member back over time. 

• One member could buy the property and 
the community could refinance as a hous- 
ing co-op, with the founder being reim- 
bursed all funds except his or her co-op 
share, as Mariposa Grove plans to do. 

When someone can't afford it. When a member 
can't afford the buy-in fee, some groups reluc- 
tantly decide that they won't be able to join the 
community. Other groups figure out ways to 
make it financially possible for everyone to join. 
For example: 

• The community could loan the person 
part of the money for the required down 
payment from its development fund, as 
Sowing Circle/OAEC did. The person 
then reimburses the development fund 
over time. Alternatively, another group 
member, or several members, could loan 
the person part of the required contribu- 

• The community could buy the property 
with equal contributions from most 
founders, but allow some founders to pay 
half down and the rest in monthly pay- 
ments with interest, as Earthaven did. 

• The community could buy the property 
with equal contributions from most 
founders, but allow some founders to pay 
with the equivalent of so many years' 
labor for the community at some agreed- 
upon hourly wage, through a labor con- 
tract, as Earthaven did with some early 

• The person doesn't contribute to the land 
purchase, but pays the community a 
monthly rental fee to live in community- 
owned housing. The community would 
need clear agreements about whether the 
property-use and decision-making rights 
are different for founders who are ten- 
ants. Alternatively, the tenant- members 
could save money over time to pay the 
buy-in fee. 


• The person could rent a room or a rental 
unit, or share housing with another com- 
munity member. Again, doing this would 
require clear agreements about any dis- 
tinctions in property use and decision- 
making rights. 

• If the amount of financial contribution is 
tied to the size and cost of the housing 
unit, the community could create studio- 
sized housing units for founders with 
fewer assets, as some cohousing commu- 
nities have done. 

• In "lot model" cohousing communities, in 
which each member buys a lot and builds 
their own dwelling, the community could 
allow the member to use the kitchen and 
shower facilities of its common house, and 
build a small sleeping hut on his or her 
site, while saving enough money is to 
build a house, as Sharingwood Cohousing 
in Washington did. 

There are most likely many other ways to 
help founders without enough funds for the 
buy-in fee. Sometimes the process of accommo- 
dating people in this situation can backfire, so it's 
critical to put any alternative arrangements in 
writing in advance, to protect both the commu- 
nity in general and the specific members 
involved. (See Chapter 18 for Pueblo Encantata's 
experience with one such arrangement.) 

Collecting Funds 

While your expenses will be minor at first, once 
you're about to create a legal entity and begin 
your land search, you'll need several thousand 
dollars from each committed member for costs 
associated with forming a legal entity and the 
land-search process. When you find a likely 
property, expenses can include an option fee to 

take the property off the market and, if needed, 
costs associated with researching its feasibility 
for your group and/or getting an exception to 
zoning regulations. Community groups create 
different methods for collecting funds; for exam- 
ple, collecting a small monthly amount and 
assessing yourselves larger lump sums at key 
points along the way. 

If you hire a member of your group to devote 
full or part-time to the project for a time, that's 
another expense. (Or you could do as one group 
did, and give the person a deep discount on buy- 
in costs and/or the first choice of homesite or 
living space.) 

Raising Money from Supporters 

You might also raise funds from others. 
Earthaven cofounder Valerie Naiman suggests 
having a document showing your community's 


One of the most rewardins aspects of creating a new 
community is choosing a name. It will not only inspire 
your group and invoke your vision, but will reflect your 
values and aspirations to potential cofounders, lenders, 
zoning officials, and neighbors. Positive-affirmation and 
nature-affiliated names such as "Abundant Dawn," 
"Earthaven," and "Meadowdance" seem to work well. I 
don't recommend pretentious, flowery, or overly idealis- 
tic names, since (perhaps because their founders were 
never grounded in business, legal, and financial reali- 
ties?) communities with such names often tend to end 
up as part of the "ninety percent." Even if a community 
with a pretentious name gets off the ground, being 
called "Harmony Bliss Spirit" can prove downright 
embarrassing during the inevitable periods when peo- 
ple feel disillusioned or find themselves embroiled in 


mission and purpose, values, and goals to show 
to friends, family, and others who might want to 
support your community project. You could 
organize fundraising events such as benefit par- 
ties, with donated live music or catering, or ben- 
efit auctions with donated auction items, as well 
as offering supporters the opportunity to give 
low-interest loans. Along with membership 
dues, gifts and friendly loans from supporters 
can total several thousand dollars. 

Attracting and Integrating New 

At some point you may decide you'd like other 
people to join your group. You might want to 
simply tell friends and acquaintances what you're 
doing and invite them to a meeting, or you could 
cast a wider net and draw from the public. 

If you decide to draw from the public, target 
your promotion to people with values and inter- 
ests compatible with your future community. If 
you're planning an ecologically sustainable com- 
munity with organic gardens, for example, mail 
press releases to local environmental organiza- 
tions and post flyers at health food stores, farm- 
ers' markets, and organic-food restaurants. 

Use aspects of your vision statement and 
your mission in your flyers or brochures. For 
example, "We're seeking to form a community of 

(kinds of people) , to buy (number 

of acres) in (county/counties) in 

order to (purpose of community) . 

If it's a longer brochure, include a few paragraphs 
summarizing the key aspects of the values and 
goals of your community. Use this in any press 
releases you may send out as well. 

One of the best ways to attract like-minded 
people is a community website. I suggest creating 
one as soon as your group feels committed 
enough. The purpose of your flyers, brochures, 

press releases, and classified ads should be to 
whet people's appetites and send them straight to 
your website, where they'll learn much more 
about your interests, values, and plans. This is 
where you reveal as much of yourselves as possi- 
ble. Use your vision statement and other vision 
documents ("This is what we're about"), your 
decision log ("This is what we've done so far, and 
what we ask new people to agree to"), and your 
"How to Join Us" document ("These are the steps 
and requirements for joining our group"). Make 
sure you clearly describe the financial require- 
ments for participating, once you've decided on 
them. You can include photos of yourselves look- 
ing like a friendly and engaging bunch of folks, 
perhaps a "Frequently Asked Questions" docu- 
ment, relevant agreements or policies, and photos 
of your intended property once you've found it. 
Be sure to make it simple to request information 
through the website, and designate a member of 
your group to handle these inquiries. 

You'll want the information on your website 
to draw only the people who resonate with your 
group's particular values and vision. If you don't 
use a website, you can use brochures and packets 
of printed materials to accomplish the same 
goals. "It's more important to reach the right peo- 
ple than simply a lot of people," notes 
Meadowdance cofounder Luc Reid. 

You could follow up any inquiries by sending 
out a thank-you letter and a questionnaire for 
inquirers to fill out and return. 

A next step could be for interested people to 
visit your group. Have a regular procedure of 
welcoming visitors at the beginning of meetings, 
and introduce everyone around the circle. If they 
show an interest in becoming members, give 
them a copy of your vision documents and your 
"How to Join Us" document (even though they 
may have already seen these on your website), a 


current version of your decision log, and other 
relevant materials. Explain your process for 
when and how new members can participate in 
meetings and when they'll have full decision- 
making rights. (Some communities require new 
members to take a consensus workshop before 
becoming full members. ) Community consult- 
ant Rob Sandelin suggests assigning new mem- 
bers a "buddy" who will be available by phone to 
answer any questions about your process and 
your progress so far. 

Creating "Community Glue" 

Forming a community is not really about your 
property-purchase and development goals, but 
about generating a sense of community — a 
kind of group well-being in which you've con- 
nected with each other emotionally and know 
each other deeply. 

Rudolf Steiner said that shared physical 
activities — when people move the body and 
vocal chords — bonds people at such deep levels 
that their connection tends to last. This certainly 
confirms most groups' experience of what makes 
people feel connected and committed to each 
other — working together in shared labor, eating 
together, telling each other their life's experiences, 
speaking from the heart about personal or inter- 
personal issues, singing, dancing, doing rituals, 
and celebrating birthdays and holidays. 

Most groups have weekly or monthly 
potlucks, often associated with business meet- 
ings, which certainly contributes to community 
glue, as well as making decisions together and 
personal sharing, such as check-ins and wisdom 
circles. (These are explored more fully in 
Chapter 17.) 

One of the best ways for a group to experience 
a sense of community is to rent a rustic lodge 
with kitchen facilities for the weekend, with activ- 

ities that might include preparing food and eating 
meals together, hiking and swimming, playing 
volleyball or other sports, making music and 
singing, and telling stories around the campfire. 

Storytelling is an excellent way to create inti- 
macy on deeper levels, especially if the topics are 
self-revealing and personal. One way groups can 
do this is to tell their life stories, focusing espe- 
cially on life-changing events or those that affect- 
ed them deeply. Another is to ask each person to 
share for 20 minutes or so about the attitudes in 
their family of origin on such normally taboo 
subjects as religion, money, or social class. Such 
sessions can not only lead to a much closer sense 
of connection, but can also help people under- 
stand how each group member might approach 
such community issues as sharing common 
property or handling community finances. 

If the group is small enough, or if there's 
enough time, each person can tell stories in turn. 


In some communities individual households have 
kitchens and eat meals at home, with shared meals one 
or more times a week. Other communities have central 
kitchen and dinins facilities where members share three 
meals a day. How many shared meals are necessary to 
make a difference in community slue? 

"Count up the number of days in a week that a group 
shares meals, and you'll have a reasonably good barom- 
eter for measuring the closeness of that community," 
observes community activist Geoph Kozeny. "When the 
frequency gets up to four meals a week or so, somehow 
the social glue gets stronger." 

Almost every community described in this book 
begins common meals by standing in a circle and hold- 
ing hands and either taking a moment of silence, offering 
a prayer, or singing a song. 


If time is more limited, people can put their 
names in a hat and draw out as many names as 
there is time for, with future meetings planned so 
everyone will get a chance. Shyer members can 
choose not to speak, but will still enjoy listening 
to other people's stories. The group can use a 
kitchen timer to help each other keep to their 
agreed times. Storytelling evenings are so enjoy- 
able they can be repeated many times. 

Pioneers, Settlers, and the Flow of 

Two kinds of people are usually attracted to 
forming communities — pioneers and settlers. 
Pioneers take risks and leap into the unknown. 
They start the group, do the research, find the 
land. Settlers wait and see if the pioneer group 
can pull it off. They come in later, when more is 
known about the project, and when there's some- 
thing more visible to join. Settlers need the pio- 
neers to break trail for them. Pioneers need the 
settlers to join when it's time to raise money and 
make the project happen. Pioneers are like entre- 
preneurs. Settlers are like wait-and-see investors. 
Forming community groups need both. 

In most groups, relatively few people meeting 
in the early months will actually end up moving 
into the community (although it's possible a 
tight group of friends will go the whole distance. 
"The group you start with won't be the group 
you'll end up with," says Sowing Circle 
cofounder Adam Wolpert. "Even some of your 
key founding group members may not be there 
when you buy your property." 

People usually leave when you reach certain 

• When you identify your community 
vision and write your vision documents, 

some people could realize it's not for 
them and leave. However, new people will 
join, attracted by your group and your 
community vision. 

• When you agree on criteria for your 
property more members could exit — 
that's not really the kind of land they 
wanted. But new people will join — it's 
exactly the kind of land they wanted. 

• When you agree on financial criteria for 
your community, you could have another 
exodus — some can't afford it. But more 
will come, and your financial criteria will 
let them know whether they can afford it. 

• When you decide to purchase a particu- 
lar property there may be a stampede for 
the door. Some back off because it's not 
the right property after all. Others flee 
because it's a supreme reality check. Now 
that they're staring community full in the 
face — gulp! They realize they're not 
ready for it; it's too huge a commitment, 
too great a lifestyle change. 

However, after this point, many more people 
may join the group — because they like you, 
they like your vision, they can afford it — and 
they like your beautiful property! This is often 
the time when settlers, watching from the side- 
lines, get active again, and bring their check- 

You're on your way. Next, your first significant 
step towards community — identifying your 
community vision. 

^Chapter 4^> 

Community Vision — What It Is, 
Why You Need It 

IT WAS CRISIS TIME at a community I'll call 
Willow Bend. This small community in the 
rural Midwest launched itself in the early 
nineties with no vision or vision statement. That 
means they had no shared expression of their 
desired future, no "why we're here" agreement 
that aligned community members and inspired 
them to work toward their shared aspirations. 

Then the bottom fell out of the market for 
the wooden children's toys they manufactured as 
their primary community business. Overnight 
they lost almost half of their annual income 
base. Under severe financial strain, the members 
held long meetings to figure out what to do. 
Unfortunately different Willow Benders had 
widely different ideas about their purpose for 
being a community. 

"We're here to show people a low-consump- 
tion lifestyle that works financially" says Tom. 
"We've got to recoup our losses somehow." 

"No way!" exclaims Kathleen."We're just here 
to enjoy ourselves and not have to work for the 
man. We'll just eat beans for awhile." 

"How can you say that?" asks Andy incredu- 
lous. "We're supposed to radicalize people! We're 
supposed to show that you don't have to compete 

so much and can share things equally and all get 

Except they weren't getting along, and were 
competing mightily themselves, for the underly- 
ing basis of Willow Bend's reality. With no com- 
mon vision, they had nothing to return to — no 
common touchstone of values, purpose, or aspi- 
rations about why their community life mat- 
tered, how it fit into the larger world. Because 
they use consensus decision making, no majority 
of Willow Benders with the same vision could 
determine the vision for the whole group. On the 
surface it looks like they were arguing about 
money. But they were actually expressing the 
inherent structural conflict of not all standing on 
the same ground. And unlike folks in forming- 
community groups, people with different visions 
can't simply go their separate ways and start dif- 
ferent communities. Willow Bend was their 
home, and no one could ask anyone else to leave 
because of their "wrong" vision. As the conflict 
grew intense several people saw no way out and 
left the community. Now Willow Bend had two 
crises — not enough money and not enough 
people to carry out the tasks of their other com- 
munity businesses. 



I hope this (true) story illustrates why it's so 
important to establish why we're here as a basis 
for creating community — and why everyone in 
the community needs to be on the same page. 

Kat Kinkade, cofounder of Twin Oaks com- 
munity in Virginia, describes a similar circum- 
stance. Once some friends of hers were appalled 
by what they read in the vision documents of a 
particular community. But when they met some- 
one from that community whom they liked very 
much, they decided to visit, and found everyone 
there to be friendly, warm, and charming. 
Figuring that actions speak louder than words 
they decided to ignore the community's declared 
vision and values and join anyway. 

But as Kat's friends lived there over the 
months, they found themselves increasingly at 
odds with the community's founders. While 
everyone was warm and courteous at first, the 
newcomers' values and goals weren't compatible 
with the community's, and soon they were 
embroiled in serious conflict over the direction 
the community. Eventually the dissension and 
distrust grew so bitter that Kat's friends left the 
community — and so did several other mem- 
bers, disillusioned by the bad blood generated by 
power struggles over vision and values. 

"This left the group weak, angry, and 
exhausted," says Kat. "It was a community 
tragedy, and not an uncommon one." I've heard 
this same story more than once about other 

So the first major task members of a forming 
community group is to clarify and write down 
their vision, and make sure they all agree on it. 

Some well-known, long-lived, apparently 
successful communities don't have and never had 
a common vision, or at least, never wrote any- 
thing down. This can work — but in my opinion 
it doesn't work well for long. Not having a com- 

mon vision can blow a community apart when a 
major challenge or crisis occurs. Or it can slowly 
erode everyone's vitality and well-being over the 
years as each conflict arising from different 
visions adds to the accumulation of resentment. 

"A common vision is neither necessary nor 
sufficient for starting a new community, since 
many have gotten by without one, and some that 
had one failed," observes community activist Tree 
Bressen. "But a common vision greatly increases 
the probability of success. If your group is going 
to all the trouble to start a community, can you 
afford not to give yourselves the best possible 

Sound a Clear Note 

A vision doesn't start out as necessarily "visual," 
and although written down, it's much more than 
a collection of words. It begins as a quality of 
energy that grabs you and doesn't let go. It's like 
a beam of energy leading your group from where 
you are to where you want to go. 

Your vision must be articulated in a way that 
others can understand easily. It must be simple, 
clear, and authentic. As Sirius cofounders 
Corrine McLaughlin and Gordon Davidson say, 
it must "sound a clear note on inner levels," so it 
will attract others who resonate with that note. 

"It's like a tuning fork against which you 
measure your resonance," says Adam Wolpert, 
cofounder of Sowing Circle/Occidental Arts & 
Ecology Center. "It shows how well you're doing 
in the theory-practice gap. It helps you aim 

Once it's written down, a well-crafted vision: 

• Describes the shared future you want to 

• Reveals and announces your group's core 


• Expresses something each of you can 
identify with. 

• Helps unify your effort. 

• Gives you a reference point to return to 
during confusion or disagreement. 

• Keeps your group inspired. 

• Draws out the commitment of the people 
in your group. 

"By describing what we want to have hap- 
pen," says Adam Wolpert, "it's like an insurance 
policy for the future, for what we don't want to 
have happen." 

Elements of a Community's Vision 

The terms "mission," "purpose," "values," "goals," 
"objectives,""aspirations,""interests," and'strategy" 
are often associated with a community's vision. 
These words mean different things to different 
communities, as you'll see in the sample vision 
documents. Here's how I use these terms. 

Vision. This is the shared future you want to cre- 
ate, your shared image of what's possible, the thing 
that motivates your actions to create community. 
It's often expressed as the "who," the "what" and 
the'why" of your endeavor. Ideally it's described in 
the present tense, as if it were happening now. 

Mission, Purpose. Your group's mission or pur- 
pose expresses your vision in concrete, physical 
terms. It's what you'll be physically doing as well 
as experiencing as you manifest your shared 
image of what's possible. To understand the dif- 
ference between "vision" and "mission," consider 
a community with the vision: "A world where 
everyone has adequate, healthy shelter." Its mis- 
sion, to express this vision physically, could be: 
"To build a model demonstration village using 

low-cost natural building materials, and through 
outreach programs teach our building methods, 
particularly in Third-world countries." 

Values. Your group's vision arises out of its 
shared values, the characteristics and processes 
you deem worthy. Values are expressed by how 
you behave now, and how you intend to behave, 
on a daily basis, as you live in community. In the 
above example, the community might hold val- 
ues of sustainability, fairness, kindness, generosi- 
ty, service, accessibility, thrift, and conservation 
of resources. 

Interests. This includes experiences, states of 
being, or physical things people may be interest- 
ed in relative to your future community. Interests 
usually arise from values and can be expressed as 
goals. Many of you may be interested in com- 
posting, perhaps because you value sustainabili- 
ty, and express that as a goal to build compost for 
your future community garden. 

Goals, Objectives. Goals or objectives are mile- 
stones you commit yourselves to accomplish, but 
short-term, often in a few months or a year. Your 
community's goals are measurable: you know 
when you've accomplished them. In the above 
example, the group might want to finish building 
their model village in three years, and in the fol- 
lowing year begin their outreach program to 
countries in Central America. 

Aspirations. These are strong desires or ambi- 
tions for inspired, elevated goals, arising from 
values. Your community may have a goal to con- 
struct a meeting hall for 100 people in two years, 
and, because you value beauty and sacred space, 
your aspiration is to build a meeting hall that 
will be beautiful, calming, and uplifting. 


Strategy. Your strategy affirms a series of goals in 
a particular time-frame. If your vision expresses 
the "who." "what." and "why" of your communi- 
ty, your strategy encompasses the "how." "where." 
and "when." It usually involves budgets and cash- 
flow projections and time lines. Altering your 
vision will completely change the future you're 
creating, but altering your strategy only changes 
how you end up getting there. In the above 
example, the group's strategy for achieving their 
goals might be to raise $500,000 and share low- 
cost building methods in the first two years by 
offering public workshops and seeking grants 
from private donors and public foundations. 

As we'll see in the next chapter, a communi- 
ty's vision arises in part from the resonance of its 
individual members' combined values, interests, 
aspirations, and goals. 

Nature's Spirit, an aspiring spiritual commu- 
nity in South Carolina, expressed the difference 
between their vision (their dream), mission 
(their physical activities), and goals (their specif- 
ic, measurable actions) this way: 

Vision: A world that values the diversity of all life 
and provides for its sustainability by living in har- 
mony with nature and spirit. 

Mission: To create a community in which we work 
to expand our consciousness by living in the ques- 
tion: How does one live sustainably in harmony 
with nature and spirit? This will enable us to be of 
service, share our experiences, and link with simi- 
lar local and global efforts. 


• Procure and care for a commons — a land 
trust that will ecologically support a small 
village of 50+ people. 

• Build a self-sustaining infrastructure to sup- 
port our basic needs. 

• Create homes, gathering places and guest 
facilities using sustainable building meth- 
ods and energy sources. 

• Maintain an organic stewardship of the land 
that will provide for our own and others' 
food needs while giving back to the Earth. 

• Create and nurture a spiritual center as the 
core of our community. 

• Create an interdependent social system. 

• Initiate necessary enterprises to assure eco- 
nomic viability with minimal dependence 
on institutional structures and the market 

• Establish educational, leadership, intern- 
ship, and exchange programs that will 
enable us to be of service to others, com- 
municate and share our experiences, and 
link with similar local and global efforts. 

Your Vision Documents and Vision 

Some communities have formal vision documents 
that describe in inspirational terms the shared 
future they hope to create together. Other groups 
may have various documents that give a sense of 
their vision, often conveyed through a vision state- 
ment, possibly a brief description of their purpose 
or mission, inspirational or factual paragraphs 
about their community and what they hope for it. 
and sometimes lists of shared values and goals. 
These can appear in internal agreements and 
covenants or formal documents associated with 
the legal entity through which the community 
owns land (corporate bylaws, partnership agree- 
ments, or operating agreements), and in promo- 


tional literature such as website text, brochures, 
and information packets for prospective members. 

Your community's vision is not the same 
thing as its vision statement, although a vision 
statement serves some of the same functions. 
The vision statement is your vision articulated 
— a condensed version in a few sentences. "It's 
like a notice posted at the gate to all who would 
like to enter" says Stephen Brown, cofounder of 
the former Shenoa Retreat and Conference 
Center in California. "It says, in effect, 'This is 
what we are about; this is what we hope to 
accomplish; this is what guides us'." 

Shenoa Retreat and Learning Center: We have 
joined together to create a center for renewal, 
education, and service, dedicated to the positive 
transformation of our world. 

Harmony Village Cohousing: We are creating a 
cooperative neighborhood of diverse individuals 
sharing human resources within an ecologically 
responsible community setting. 

Meadowdance Community: We are an egalitar- 
ian, child-centered community that welcomes 
human diversity, ecological sensibility, mutual 
learning, and joy. 

Earthaven Ecovillage (from "ReMembership 
Covenant"): (We are) an evolving village-scale 
community dedicated to caring for people and 
the Earth by learning, practicing and demon- 
strating the skills for creating holistic sustainable 
culture, in recognition and celebration of the 
Oneness of all life. 

A well-crafted vision statement: 
• Offers a clear, concise, compelling expres- 
sion of your group's vision and mission 

(and sometimes, its goals). 

• Is short, ideally about 20-40 words. 

• Embodies the same quality of energy as 
your vision. 

• Helps focus your group's energy like a lens. 

• Offers a shorthand reminder of why 
you're forming community. 

• Helps awaken your vision as a energetic 

• Is easily memorized, and ideally each of 
you can recite it. 

• Communicates your group's core purpose 
to others quickly: "This is what we're 

• Allows your group to be specific about 
what it is — and is not. 

• Is what potential new members want to 
see first. 

And, like your community vision itself, the 
vision statement: 

• Is something every member can identify 

• Helps unify your effort. 

• Keeps your group inspired. 

• Reveals and announces your core values. 

• Gives you a reference point to return to 
during confusion or disagreement. 

Like the examples above, your vision state- 
ment should be fairly clear and unambiguous. 
There seems to be a high correlation between 
clear, specific, and grounded vision statements 
and communities that actually get built — and 
between flowery, vague, or downright preten- 
tious vision statements and communities that 
never get off the ground. 


(Note: Some of the communities from which 
I excerpted sample vision statements, pg. 39, use 
the terms "vision statement" and "mission state- 
ment" differently than I've just described. But 
you'll get the gist.) 

Do It First 

Identify and articulate your vision first, before 
buying property together. If not, you could end 
up like one eco-spiritual community in the 

Northeast. Six years after moving to their land, 
and after finishing a major building project, they 
began having differences about what their next 
steps should be. They couldn't understand why 
their conflict was so intense. Why were they so 
at odds with each other? What was wrong with 
those other people? Finally the group called in a 
group process consultant who asked each mem- 
ber to fill out a questionnaire about what they 
valued and aspired to in their community. The 


Our Mission: To create a society, the size of a small 
town or village, made up of individuals and commu- 
nities of various sizes and social structures, which 
allows and encourages its members to live sustain- 
ably. ("Sustainably" means in such a manner that, 
within the defined area, no resources are consumed 
faster than their natural replenishment, and the 
enclosed system can continue indefinitely without 
degradation of its internal resource base or the stan- 
dard of living of the people and the rest of the 
ecosystem within it, and without contributing to the 
non-sustainability of ecosystems outside.) 

We encourage this sustainable society to grow to 
have the size and recognition necessary to have an 
influence on the global community by example, 
education, and research. 

While Dancing Rabbit is still a small community in 
the pioneering stage, we call ourselves an ecovillage 
because our vision is of something much more than 
what we currently are. 

We intend to grow to be a small locally self- 
reliant town of 500 to 1000 residents, committed to 
radical environmental sustainability. We will be 
housed in a variety of living arrangements, eat a vari- 
ety of foods, and work on varied projects. It will be 
a society flexible enough to include egalitarian com- 
munities, cohousing, and individual households. But 
while we may have different approaches to some 
issues, the common desire for environmental sus- 
tainability will underlie all key decisions at Dancing 

Although Dancing Rabbit will strive for self-suffi- 
ciency and economic independence, we will not 
be sequestered from mainstream America. Rather, 
outreach and education are integral to our goals. We 
will vigorously promote ourselves as a viable exam- 
ple of sustainable living and spread our ideas and 
discoveries through visitor programs, academic and 
other publications, speaking engagements, and the 

(See Appendix 1 for more sample vision documents.) 


questionnaire revealed that community members 
lived in either one of two subtle but different par- 
adigms of reality, expressed by the following two 
vision statements: 

1. We are an educational organization and 
model demonstration site based on ecologi- 
cal principles. We live as a residential com- 
munity in order to facilitate our work hosting 
classes and workshops. 

2. We are a community of supportive friends 
valuing an ecologically sound, sustainable 
lifestyle, and to help others, we offer classes 
and workshops in these topics. 

Some community members believed the 
first was the community's reason for being, oth- 
ers believed the second — and until that time 
no one knew the other reality existed. It was a stun- 
ning revelation. Different people had different 
visions, which they incorrectly assumed every- 
one shared. Although by this time people were 
arguing most of the time, their core problem 
wasn't interpersonal conflict. Their problem 
was structural — built into the system. Theirs 
was definitely a "time-bomb" kind of conflict, 
with members unable to see it's not that "John's 
being unreasonable" or "Sue's irresponsible 
again," but that John and Sue were each operat- 
ing from a different assumption about why the 
community was there in the first place. And 
what should they do with such structural con- 
flict? Which people should stay in the commu- 
nity and which had the "wrong" vision and 
should move out? 

Having a clear, grounded, inspired vision and 
vision statement does not in itself ensure a com- 

munity's success. I knew two forming communi- 
ties with beautiful vision statements that broke 
up. One halted because its members were young 
parents with too many responsibilities to spend 
the time that creating a community requires. The 
other was geographically challenged — its mem- 
bers were aligned in vision, but members had 
strong loyalties to two different locations. Some 
forming community groups with well-aligned 
visions have broken up for other reasons, such as 
losing their chosen property to a competing 
buyer with more money. And some new commu- 
nities with great visions that have already moved 
to their property and begun building, have some- 
times been brought down by conflicts with 
neighbors, zoning regulations that restricted 
their expansion, or the departure of too many 
members. Although it doesn't solve everything, at 
least an inspired common vision gives a chal- 
lenged community a central core to rally around 
during challenges like these, and encourages them 
to have the heart to persevere. 

Other structural- conflict issues can break up 
communities as well — coming to grief over 
how decisions should be made, or what their 
agreements were, or through exhausting inter- 
personal conflict. Nevertheless, and I can't 
emphasize this strongly enough — for the best 
chance of success, make creating your vision and 
vision statement the first thing you do. 

How do you do this? We'll explore that next. 

^Chapter 5^ 

Creatins Vision Documents 

be exciting and challenging. It involves 
deeply held values, strong interests, and high 
aspirations. It brings up both known and hidden 
expectations and assumptions. 

The members of your group may hold many 
shared values and some differing values, and sim- 
ilar as well as wildly different ideas and expecta- 
tions. Some of these may be realistic, others not. 
Your task is to unearth, sift, and refine these 
ideas and expectations until you come up with a 
grounded yet inspiring description of your 
shared community future. 

This generally involves two steps: 

1. Exploring the territory. You explore your 
dreams, hopes, and expectations for commu- 
nity in a series of visioning sessions, writing 
down highlights of what you learn, ideally on 
large sheets of easel paper. The sessions can 
include wide-ranging discussions, deep per- 
sonal sharing, and visioning exercises. It's 
best if these sessions are long — half-day, 
day-long, or weekend meetings. 

2. Writing it down. A smaller task force or 
committee uses this material to draft a pre- 
liminary vision description and vision state- 
ment. The whole group critiques the work, 

makes suggestions for improvement, and 
sends it back to the small group for revision. 
The back-and-forth process between the task 
force and whole group can occur as many 
times as needed until it's done. The larger or 
the more diverse your group, the longer this 
process may take. 

Some groups finish within a few weeks or 
months, but only if they're relatively small, their 
members know each other well, or they're fairly 
homogeneous in interests and values. But if your 
group is large, your members diverse, or your 
plans ambitious, it can take more than a year. 
The six cofounders of Shenoa Retreat and 
Conference Center spent a year and a half iden- 
tifying and crafting their vision documents. The 
15 to 20 members of Earthaven's original group 
spent two years. 

Some community veterans say it's better if the 
group is relatively small, for example between 
three to five people, or at least no more than ten. 
Visioning with a smaller number of people helps 
reduce the likelihood that the group will try to 
contort itself this way and that in order to include 
the diverse visions often found in a larger group. 

"It's far better to start with a very small 
group, even two or three people who have a 



strong agreement about the purpose of the com- 
munity, and allow it to unfold organically from 
that strong and firm nucleus or seed, than it is to 
start with 20 people who have no clear agree- 
ment or purpose, and then try to discover one" 
advise Robert and Dianne Gilman in their book 
Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities. 

However, regardless of the size of your group, 
everyone needs to contribute to the vision. It 
doesn't work if especially influential people artic- 
ulate the vision and everyone else just goes along 
with it. When people don't "vote" for the vision at 
the outset by helping create it, they end up "vot- 
ing" for it later, through their behavior. Those 
aligned with the vision will vote "Yes" by behav- 
ing consistently with it; those who were never 
really aligned may vote "No" on the vision by 
balking at or unconsciously sabotaging certain 
processes or tasks later. If everyone in the group 
participates in the visioning process and buys into 
it at the beginning, the community functions as a 
more harmonious, cohesive whole later on. 

More Than One Vision? 

You may not be able to resolve vision differences 
easily. Let's say you discover that most people in 
your group want a rural self-reliant homestead at 
least an hour's drive from the city, but others 
want a country place that's no more than 30 min- 
utes from their city jobs. Among both the hour- 
away and job-commuter groups, some definitely 
want open, honest feedback but others want 
none of that "touchy-feely stuff." Some of the 
for-process as well as anti-process people want a 
homeschooling co-op; others don't. With diver- 
sity like this, you're probably not destined to end 
up in the same community. But your visioning 
process wouldn't be wasted. It could help bring 
clarity to what each of you does and does not 
want in a community — a helpful first step. 

A scenario like this could have several out- 

1. The vision of the original group members 
remains constant and the people who res- 
onate with it remain involved. Those who 
don't, leave the group. 

2. Some people leave your group, disappointed 
that more people didn't share their vision. 
New people join your group, attracted by the 
vision articulated by the largest number of 
remaining group members, or by the most 
influential members. 

3. Your group disbands. Too many people 
wanted too many different things. 

4. Your group splits into two or more smaller 

What's typical? Smaller groups of long-time 
friends, especially those who have already 
worked together on visionary, spiritually orient- 
ed, or activist projects tend to align to a common 
vision. Larger groups, especially those whose 
participants don't know each other well (such as 
people responding to public announcements 
about forming a community), tend to experience 
high attrition and/or splinter into smaller 
groups. This is fine. One or more of the smaller 
groups may go on to form a community. 

If a group is small and based primarily on 
deep connections or shared friendships, most 
members will tend to stay in the group and alter 
any expression of community vision to fit every- 
one's interests and desires. The founders of 
Sowing Circle/OAEC in northern California 
were long-time friends and environmental 
activists, some of whom had been housemates 
on and off for 15 years. They wanted a commu- 
nity that would operate an educational center 
and demonstration site based on ecological prin- 
ciples. One artist member supported this vision, 


yet wanted to continue painting and teaching 
painting. So the when the community estab- 
lished its non-profit center, they included arts 
and called it the Occidental Arts and Ecology 
Center, offering workshops on landscape paint- 
ing along with those on organic gardening and 
permaculture design. 

This kind of coalescing of interests usually 
works best if a founding group is fairly small. 
Most of the seven founders of Abundant Dawn 
community in rural Virginia had previously lived 
in large income- sharing communes. Some want- 
ed an income-sharing community; others want- 
ed independent finances. Since friendship and 
connection was their major draw, they formed 
smaller subcommunity "pods" within Abundant 
Dawn. Founders favoring income-sharing 
became the Tekiah pod, those favoring inde- 
pendent incomes became the Dayspring Circle 
pod, and they all still got to live in community 

However, if a forming community is not 
based on existing friendships but on an idea that 
it would be nice to live in community, then the 
original founders will probably hold to their par- 
ticular visions and others will drop out, especial- 
ly if the initial forming group is large, or if its 
members were attracted through flyers or other 
public means. Such a group tends to have multi- 
ple values, aspirations, and expectations, making 
the visioning process more complex. Some com- 
munities, particularly cohousing communities, 
begin with this challenge. 

When your group is diverse, do you adopt a 
vision that will cause some people to stay and 
others to leave, or do you try to mold the vision 
to meet everyone's different values and interests? 

Don't try to create a one-size-fits-all vision. 
"All too often there's the temptation to accom- 
modate or shape the vision to suit the needs of 

each person, either because the group needs to 
recruit new members or because they have a mis- 
guided sense of wanting to take care of everyone 
or be all things to all people,'" says Stephen 
Brown. "To be successful, a forming community, 
like a business, needs to hold a relatively narrow 
focus and sharply defined objectives. If the com- 
munity tries to do too much, by attempting to 
meet the needs of all who come along, it will 
spread itself too thin and either not get off the 
ground or run out of steam fairly early on. The 
vision therefore also defines what the project 
does not intend to accomplish. If your vision is 
too broad or comprehensive, and tries to please 
all of the people all of the time, it will fall of its 
own awkward expansiveness, trying to be in too 
many places at once." 

How do you handle it if, after weeks or 
months of visioning sessions, you discover you 
are really two potential communities? What if 
many people leave, or the group splits in two? 
This can feel chaotic and disorienting — and 
newly bonded group members or long-time 
friends can feel loss knowing their friends won't 
be joining them in the same community future. 
If this happens it's perfectly OK; it's part of the 

"A key challenge for the group at this time is 
to help everyone discover his or her own vision, 
and, in so doing, allow everyone to see which 
visions are sufficiently aligned to serve as the 
basis for the group vision and which visions need 
to find expression elsewhere," observe Diane and 
Robert Gilman in Eco-Villages and Sustainable 
Communities. "It is important to avoid the expec- 
tation that every initial member of the group 
should continue with the group, since for some 
that could mean either suppressing their own 
vision or attempting to force a vision on others 
that the others do not truly share. Honor each 


persons contribution and don't be afraid to sort 
out who will and who won't continue with the 

Finding out that you have multiple directions 
and diverse ideas, and that you may in fact be 
two different potential communities is not a sign 
of failure but a step along the way. Even with the 
best of intentions, if your group discovers that 
you're not all on the same page, you can still wish 
each other well and form two communities. 
(And you don't have to lose each other as 

A Sacred Time 

Your visioning process is one of the single most 
important tasks you'll undertake as a forming 
community. This is where you'll speak form the 
heart about what really matters to you. It's a 
sacred time. Your voices may become suddenly 
soft, or tight with emotion. You may get tears in 
your eyes. You'll be unearthing — birthing — 
something here. Listen for that deep sense of 
purpose, that group entity that wants to be born. 
And listen equally, for what seems "off," or unre- 
alistic, or something only personal growth or 
therapy could provide. This is the time to ask 
yourselves: "Are these expectations realistic? Do 
they make sense?" 

Visioning seems to involve both the process 
of exploring and that of revealing, much like 
Michelangelo finding the sculpture hidden with- 
in the marble. Something new emerges, sparked 
by the potent brew of individual values, ideals, 
aspirations, and expectations. 

If you haven't done so already, it's important 
to decide now who is and is not a committed, 
decision-making member of your group. You 
may have some less committed members, people 
who attend meetings only occasionally or who 
have only recently joined, or people who feel 

more tentative about the idea of community or 
about your group specifically. You may want to 
consider asking these people not to participate in 
the visioning process. Or, you might want to 
include them in the processes but (with every- 
one's knowledge and consent ahead of time) give 
less weight to their interests and suggestions 
than you do those of the more committed mem- 
bers. This can be a difficult issue to bring up for 
discussion, as some people believe "it's not com- 
munity" if you consider excluding or limiting 
anyone's participation. But consider it practically. 
If six of you meet regularly and have similar 
interests, and a seventh person comes occasional- 
ly, or is present for some but not all of your meet- 
ings, or has substantially different ideas about 
community than the rest of you, should that per- 
son's values and desires be part of your shared 
community future? Maybe they should, and 
maybe not, but I believe you'll be better off dis- 
cussing and deciding this with everyone involved 
ahead of time. 

"That's Not Community!" — Hidden 
Expectations and Structural Conflict 

Most people drawn to community have expecta- 
tions or assumptions about what "community" 
means. They believe they know why they want 
to live in community, and what they'll expect to 
find there. Some expectations or assumptions 
focus on activities — we'll share some resources, 
we'll share some meals, we'll cooperate on deci- 
sions. Others arise from painful experiences 
from the past and focus on emotional states the 
person hopes to feel in community — connec- 
tion, inclusion, acceptance. Past emotional pain 
can motivate people toward community because 
at some level they believe community will pro- 
vide what's missing from their lives. "Missing" 
factors that propel people toward community 


can include affection, acceptance, inclusion, and 
emotional safety. This can involve conscious loss 
and known expectations — "It's going to be like 
a warm and loving family" — as well as unfelt 
pain and unconscious expectations ("...and I will 
be totally loved and accepted, finally!"). 

Hidden expectations about community usual- 
ly aren't realistic. They often take on a golden, nos- 
talgic quality, like looking back on a paradise lost. 
Here's what one member of a forming communi- 
ty wrote about her personal vision of community: 

Like a warm embrace, a gathering of friends, 
laughter on sunny days, caring and offering 
support in times of need, like coming home. 
Warm, homey, spiritually rooted, peaceful, joy- 
ous, celebratory, connected, close, respectful, 
emotionally honest, trusting. Home! 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this 
vision. It's probably what we all want. The ques- 
tion is — can we expect community to provide it? 

"The fantasy of creating an 'ideal' communi- 
ty tends to transform a simple discussion into a 
magical blend of fact and fiction," writes Zev 
Paiss in Cohousing magazine. "Visions of com- 
munity are fertile grounds for the expression and 
growth of long-suppressed dreams. And the 
opportunity to express these feelings can have an 
urgent quality in the early discussion stages." 

Suppressed pain and hidden expectations or 
assumptions about community can be a prime 
source of structural conflict "time bombs" that 
erupt weeks, months, or years later. This hap- 
pens for two reasons. 

First, living in community cannot erase 
buried emotional pain. When people find that 
after living in community they're still yearning for 
something valuable and elusive (although they 
may not know what it is), they tend to feel angry 

and disappointed. Not knowing the source of 
their discomfort, they tend to blame the commu- 
nity, or other members, for it. 

Second, hidden expectations about commu- 
nity differ widely from one group member to 
another. This comes up when we each think 
we're behaving in good community fashion but 
someone else is aghast at how our behavior 
"betrays" community ideals. Someone will 
express frustration, even outrage, when we've just 
breached an invisible rule in that person's own 
personal paradigm. "How can you say that? 
That's not community!" Or, "How could you do 
such a thing? That's not community!" 

The community visioning process can offer 
your group an excellent opportunity to flush 
hidden expectations to the surface and examine 
them rationally. 

"Don't go into all this psychology stuff," 
advised one experienced community friend. "It 
sounds like therapy talk. Community isn't about 
psychology. It's about neighbors learning a high 
level of functioning together so they can make 
decisions and get the work done." 

I disagree. Community does involve psycholo- 
gy stuff — which, in my opinion, is why rough- 
ly 90 percent of new communities fail. Forming 
a community is deeply psychological. Emotional 
pain and hidden expectations exert a powerful 
pull on people, and community founders are no 
exception. Put a group of people in a communi- 
ty visioning session, and you have dozens of dif- 
ferent needs and expectations, known and 
unknown, ricocheting invisibly around the room. 

I bring this up so your group can use the 
visioning process to identify, if possible, any hid- 
den expectations and bring them in to the light 
of day. Knowing what everyone wants (and really 
wants), will help your group see where you may 
be on the same page and where you may not be. 


And the best time to examine this is now, in your 
visioning meetings, before you go out and buy 
land together. You don't want to find wildly dif- 
fering pain-driven expectations later, when 
everyone's financial investment, homes, and com- 
munity self-image are on the line. The more time 
you spend on this issue now, the less you'll spend 
later. The exercises below can help your group 
with the visioning process. See Exercise 7 for 
help with accessing hidden expectations. 

Exploring the Territory 

The following exercises are offered to help trig- 
ger insights and stimulate the process of sharing, 
discussing, unearthing, and revealing the compo- 
nents of your community vision. They're offered 
as a smorgasbord of options: you may be 
inspired to choose some or all of them, modify 
them, use exercises from other sources, or make 
up your own. 

As mentioned earlier, this may take several 
half-day or day-long sessions over several weeks. 
I suggest meeting in a cozy room with enough 
tea, snacks, pillows, and childcare to be comfort- 
able and relaxed for many hours. Choose a facil- 
itator, or arrange for an outside facilitator. To 
remind you of your goal, make the following 
poster on a large sheet of easel paper and hang it 
where everyone can see it. 


• Shared future we want to create 

• Reveals & announces our core values 

• Each of us can identify with it 

• Helps unify our effort 

• Reference point we can return to 

• Keeps us all inspired 

The group will need lined paper for each per- 
son (legal pads work well), pens or pencils, pads 
of extra-large (4" x 6") yellow sticky notes, both 
red and green paper stick-on dots, sheets of easel 
paper and blue masking tape (it doesn't pull 
paint off walls), and large sheets of easel paper 
covering roughly a 4' x 8' area of wall space, or a 
large whiteboard. 

Exercise #1: Individual Values, Group 

The first exercise is designed to help people 
become more aware of what they may want to 
experience in community living. 

Depending on the size of the group, it can 
take from one long day and evening, to a week- 
end (or two different day-long sessions). The 
exercise works in a large home or facility where 
people can go off by themselves and concentrate. 

The exercise begins by writing five different 
two- or three-page recollections of experiences in 
which you felt especially fulfilled in a communi- 
ty-like setting or a shared group activity. These 
settings can include: 

• your family 

• summer camp, as a child or as a camp 

• hiking or camping trips with friends 

• a college dorm, fraternity or sorority, or 
student co-op 

• a shared group household or intentional 

• an activist or service project, a shared 
work task 

• a therapy group, 12-step group, ritual 
group, or men's or women's group 

• a theatrical or musical presentation 


• a team sports activity or shared athletic 

• your workplace 

• the military 

You're looking for times when you felt pro- 
foundly happy with other people, as if you were 
blessed to be there, as if you had "come home" — 
when you not only enjoyed the experience, but 
felt connected and bonded with the other people 

If you can only think of positive times that 
weren't all that profound, that's fine. Just write 
about some experiences you enjoyed with others. 
If you can't think of five different times, that's 
OK too. Just write as many as you can. 

While writing these stories focus mostly on 
what you felt and thought during these experi- 
ences, rather than going into detail about what 

This is focused work that requires concentra- 
tion. Some people can do it anywhere; others 
will need privacy and quiet. Make sure people 
get the quiet they need. If some people finish 
before others, ask them to go elsewhere if they 
want to talk with others so they won't disturb 
those still working. Writing five little stories can 
take several hours. Take breaks as needed, and 
when everyone has finished, take a break. 

Each person will end up with an overview of 
activities they especially like to do and states of 
being they especially like to feel in a community- 
like setting. 

Next, form into groups of three. One person 
at a time reads their stories and the other two lis- 
ten, taking notes if they like, and reflect back to 
the speaker what the stories tell them about that 
person's values, beliefs, and aspirations. The first 
person writes these insights down, adding any 
more that come up. 

After everyone has had a turn, each person 
selects five or six of the values, beliefs, or aspira- 
tions that are most personally significant, and 
writes the essence of each in a phrase or short 
sentence (not in a single word) on large yellow 
sticky notes. 

Each person reads out their phrases and 
hands them to the facilitator, who sticks them on 
the wall of easel paper or a large whiteboard. The 
group can ask clarifying questions but doesn't 
otherwise comment on the statements, or agree 
or disagree with them. 

After everyone has finished, the whole group, 
or a few people from the group, clusters the 
sticky notes into whatever natural categories 
they seem to fall into. These may include "inter- 
personal relations," "shared meals," "governance 
and decision-making," "celebration," "shared 
work," "children," "ecological values," "spiritual 
values," and so on. 

The facilitator gives each person half the 
number of stick-on red dots as there are people 
doing the exercise (e.g., three dots if you are six 
people; five if you are ten, etc.). Each person 
places a red dot next to the clusters that are most 
important to him or her personally in a future 

Now the facilitator gives each person the 
same number of green stick-on dots as there are 
people in the room (in other words, twice the 
number of red dots). Within the clusters, each 
person places a green dot next to the individual 
phrases that are most important to him or her 

Sit back and look at where the dots are. This 
is an indication of what's most important to you 
as individuals and as a group, and how aligned or 
divergent your values and interests may be. 

Talk about what you see. Do most of you 
share the same values and interests? 


(To keep this work for the writing-it- down 
phase of your visioning process, ask someone to 
copy the clusters, phrases, and red and green dot 
indicators onto one or more sheets of easel paper 
you can hang in the room.) 

Exercise #2: Individual Values, Group 

Here is a shorter and simpler exercise designed to 
get at the same kind of information, although it's 
far less rich and revealing than the first exercise. 

Pass out five or six extra-large yellow sticky 
notes to each person. Everyone answers the ques- 
tions, "What values do you hold personally for 
community?" and "What values do you think we 
share in common?" on the sticky notes, with one 
answer per note. It works best if this is done 
silently. At the end of five minutes, everyone 
places their sticky notes on the wall of easel 
paper or a large whiteboard. As in the above 
exercise, the whole group or a few people cluster 
the sticky notes into categories of similar values. 

Don't be concerned if people don't just write 
values, but also write interests or ideals. The 
exercise will still give you an idea of how aligned 
you may be, individually and as a group. 

Hand out the same proportions of red and 
green sticky dots as in the above exercise, and ask 
each person to put red dots on the clusters and 
green dots on the individual sticky notes that 
express the values they hold most dearly. 

As in the above exercise, sit back and look at 
where the dots are. (And to keep this work for 
the future, ask someone to copy it down on one 
or more sheets of easel paper you can hang up.) 

Exercise #3: Brainstorming 

This exercise is similar to the first two. 
Brainstorming offers a quick overview of your 
whole group's many interests, values, and ideals. 

In this process you each call out words or phras- 
es that embody what you're seeking in communi- 
ty. The facilitator and a second person write the 
words and phrases down on the large yellow 
sticky notes, which they stick onto the wall space 
covered with easel paper or a whiteboard. As you 
call out your words and phrases, don't hold back. 
Say anything and everything that comes to 
mind. Don't criticize or comment on anyone 
else's offerings — this is a time to let ideas pop 
up like popcorn, without censoring. 

Cluster the post-its into categories, and place 
your red and green stick-on dots, as above. 

Look at the clusters and dots, and talk about 
what this shows you about yourselves. (And have 
someone copy it onto one or more easel papers 
you can hang up, as above.) 

Brainstorming is like a snapshot of your 
group at a given point in time. If you do this 
exercise in the early stages of the visioning 
process you'll get a quick overview of what the 
group generally wants at that time. If you do it 
again towards the end of the visioning sessions, 
you may get different results. 

Exercise #4: Non-neogtiables 

Each of you lists on a piece of paper those things, 
situations, and systems that must be or must not 
be present before you will seriously consider 
going forward with the community. Then every- 
one reads their lists and a scribe writes them on 
a large sheet of easel paper for everyone to see. 
This exercise will show you places where various 
individuals in the group may seem incompatible, 
but don't worry; this is just a beginning step. 
"The exercise is amazingly revealing, because it 
forces us to examine what is really important to 
us," says cohousing consultant Zev Paiss. I rec- 
ommend doing this exercise at least twice, once 
in the middle of your visioning sessions and 


again at the end (which may be weeks later), 
because what people consider "non-negotiables" 
can change so much over the course of visioning 

"Despite the apparent solidity of the term 
'non- negotiable/" notes Zev, "as we learn about 
our personal priorities and experience working 
with others to develop a collective vision, those 
items most important to us inevitably change." 

Exercise #5: Where do we Draw the Line? 

Process consultant Rob Sandelin uses this exer- 
cise to help groups disagreeing over different 
choices or strategies. It shows that a group can 
agree on a common value, but not agree on the 
lengths to which each person would go to 
express that value. 

Let's say everyone in your group assumes 
you're all on the same page about what you mean 
by "ecological living." But some of you want the 
community to grow most of its own organic food 
and everyone eat vegetarian, and others want 
each household to make its own decisions about 
this, and offer a choice of omnivore or vegetarian 
food at common meals. 

On a large sheet of easel paper that every- 
one can see, create a list, and, in increasing 
order of effort, time, or "strictness," outline the 
different actions people can take to express the 
value or principle you're discussing. Items at 
the top of a list on "ecological values," for exam- 
ple, might include: "Buy organic produce," 
"Recycle trash," and "Compost kitchen scraps." 
Farther down you'd find actions that take more 
effort or commitment, such as: "Eat vegetari- 
an;" or "Flush the toilet rarely." The bottom, 
listing the most "radical" actions, might say 
"Use only off-grid power," "Build only with 
recycled lumber," and "Don't use a car unless 
you're car-pooling." 

When your list is complete, give everyone as 
many red dots each as the number of items on 
the list, and ask each person to put dots by the 
actions they are personally willing to actually do 
in their daily lives (not actions that they simply 
support theoretically). Some will have dots left 
over, since probably everyone won't be willing to 
do everything on the list. 

This exercise presumes that people aren't sim- 
ply "for" or "against" various values but differ in 
the matter of degree, which show up in what they 
are willing to actually do. It can help your group 
see, immediately and visually, where you fall as 
individuals in terms of specific actions you will or 
will not take regarding seemingly shared values. 
Doing this process with a variety of these shared 
values — "honesty," "love of nature," "spirituality," 
and so on — can help you see whether most of 
you, in fact, are aligned in vision, and if any of you 
differ radically. (Better to find this out now.) 

Exercise #6: The Public/Private Scale 

This exercise is used by Rob Sandelin to help 
groups get a sense of how strongly their members 
feel about a sensitive issue that some members 
may not want to speak about openly. Let's say 
you're discussing an aspect of your future commu- 
nity life that seems to bring up discomfort and 
apprehension, but no one is coming out and say- 
ing what's bothering them. If you suspect that 
some people do or don't want something but don't 
want to say so publicly, you can use this exercise. 

On a sheet of easel pad paper, write a hori- 
zontal line numbered from one to nine, with the 
numbers one, five, and nine larger than the oth- 
ers. Below is an example of what your paper will 
look like: 


Opposed to it So-so Advocate it 


Give everyone a blank slip of paper and ask 
them to write the number that corresponds to 
their level of support for the principle, activity, or 
situation you've been talking about. A nine means 
you wholeheartedly support it; a one means you're 
adamantly opposed to it; a five means you could 
go either way. The other numbers are graduations 
of support or lack of support for the subject. 
Collect the slips of paper and make check marks 
at every number the people have written. You may 
have one mark at 9, three marks at 3, and three at 
2, for example. Now you'll have an immediate and 
visual way to see how the group as a whole really 
feels about the subject. It can be a real eye-open- 
er. You may find that only one or two people 
strongly support something, and most others 
don't care or actively oppose it. Depending on 
what your scale tells you, there may be no need to 
discuss the subject further. Without having to 
embarrass anyone publicly, you now have a realis- 
tic indicator of the spread of opinion in your 
group about a particular value or ideal. 

"This technique is a quick and powerful way 
for an individual to see where they fit in with the 
rest of the group," says Rob. "If the scale shows 
everybody is at the 7-9 range and I am the only 
person that is at a 2, that is very valuable to me 
to know. Conversely, it is very helpful for the 
group to know that one of its members is not 
aligned with everybody else." 

Exercise #7: Hidden Expectations 

This exercise, derived from art therapy, operates 
on the principal that you can bypass your think- 
ing process and access your unconscious mind. It 
involves answering questions, but this time, 
answer them as fast as you can with your pen or 
pencil in your non-dominant hand. (If you're 
right-handed, use your left hand; if you're left- 
handed, use your right.) 

Writing as fast as possible with the non- 
dominant hand is what makes the exercise work. 
Your writing (or printing, if that's what comes 
out) will tend to be large and scrawling, even 
primitive. It may reveal expectations about com- 
munity that you know very well, as well as expec- 
tations that may be important to you but about 
which you may be barely aware. You may have 
strong feelings as you write. 

Prepare the questions in advance, in ques- 
tionnaire form, with a copy for each person. 
Leave at least half a page of blank space for each 
answer. It should take about eight double-sided 

The exercise takes about 20-30 minutes, and 
seems to work best when everyone in the room 
does it at the same time. The exercise doesn't 
necessarily trigger deep insights in everyone, and 
it doesn't do it every single time. But it can offer 
a powerful source of insight for some. 

You don't have to share your answers with 
anyone, so be as candid and uninhibited as you 
like. Don't think when you're writing. Just write as 
fast as you can and let your non-dominant hand 
do the work. 

1. What do you want more than anything? For 

2. What do you want more than anything? For 
the world. 

3. What do you want more than anything? For 
your children. 

4. What do other people do that hurts you? 

5. What do you fear? 

6. What makes you mad? 

7. What makes you cry? 

8. If you could go back in your childhood and 
change your mother (or primary female care- 
taker), what would you change? 

9. If you could go back in your childhood and 


change your father (or primary male care- 
taker), what would you change? 

10. What didn't you get as a child? 

11. If you could make something in your child- 
hood better, what would it be? 

12. If you could make something in your child- 
hood go away what would it be? 

13. What do you need to feel safe? 

14. What do you need to feel loved? 

15. What do you need to feel happy? 

16. What kind of community do you want? 

When everyone is finished, take a break. 
When you return, gather in groups of three and 
invite anyone who wishes to share what they 
learned to do so within the small groups. 
Speaking is optional. Some people will speak, 
some won't; hearing some people describe their 
insights can motivate others to share their own. 

When each small group is finished, return to 
your whole group, and again invite people to 
share what they've learned. Don't write anything 
down at this point, but just listen, and then talk 
about any expectations — known or hidden — 
that anyone may want to talk about. This process 
can be very revealing, and it can also help you feel 
closer and more bonded as a group. 

The point of this exercise, however, is not 
necessarily for you to share any conscious and 
hidden expectations with the group, but simply 
to uncover them. It's an opportunity to look them 
in the face, so to speak, and ask whether or not 
they are realistic, or if they serve you. If you dis- 
cover that you expect companionship and play- 
fulness in community, for example, which might 
be a fairly conscious expectation arising from 
growing up in group of active brothers and sis- 
ters, that's fine. This seems like an expectation 
that serves you: being more aware of this expec- 
tation can motivate you to consciously create 

congenial, playful aspects of your community's 
social life. 

However, discovering that you might have 
hidden expectations that in community you'll 
always be included and never be left out, or that 
you'll always be fully accepted and never criti- 
cized, or that you'll always be totally emotionally 
safe and never experience conflict — watch out. 
Expectations like these can be time bombs. You 
can take the space now to defuse them by nam- 
ing them, sharing them (if you wish), examining 
them more closely, asking yourself if they seem 
realistic, and becoming willing to laugh about 
them and let go of them. 

If everyone in your group is doing this, it can 
have a profound effect on your shared vision for 
community, which can be considerably more 
realistic and grounded than it might otherwise 
have been. Congratulations! 

Sharing from the Heart 

You can certainly combine elements from these 
various exercises and make up your own. You can 
repeat "Non-negotiables" and "Brainstorming" as 
many times as you like, to see how the group's 
ideas are shifting or coalescing. You can bring in 
"Public/Private Scale" and "Where Do We Draw 
the Line?" anytime to get a sense of how everyone 
in the group feels about something, not just the 
most outspoken ones. The whole idea is to stim- 
ulate awareness of what you each really want, and 
get a sense of your group's shared or differing 
components of vision. Ideally, the ideas from pre- 
vious discussions and exercises will be captured 
on large sheets of easel paper on the walls. 

Really get into this with each other, as you 
share what you aspire to, deeply yearn for, 
expect, hope, and fear about living in communi- 
ty. These conversations can be tense, they can be 
deep. And they're often funny. It's a good time for 


a sense of humor, as you might find out that the 
two most inspired "burning souls" in your group 
have opposite hidden expectations. Consider 
these revelations to be part of the process. 

At this stage you're not creating strategy — 
how you'll get there — but simply working at 
identifying and visualizing the various aspects of 
your shared future. Have a note-taker write 
down the main points of your discussions, type 
them up, and save them for the more compre- 
hensive writing process to come. 

You may discover aspects of your future 
community that some of you want and some of 
you are indifferent about or don't want. You can 
negotiate, trying to meet everyone's interests 
while not limiting anyone's opportunities. If that 
isn't possible, you can see if some people are will- 
ing to let go of some part of their personal 
desires so the group may gain alignment on a 
wider part of the vision. You may want our com- 
munity to raise horses because you love them; for 
example, and I may want us to raise fields of 
wheat because I secretly fear famine. Can either 
of us let go of these personal desires so we can all 
live in our rural, self-reliant homestead? You may 
want us to operate a coffeehouse in our store- 
front space because you love the arts and intellec- 
tual pursuits; I may want us to run a soup 
kitchen because I yearn to serve the homeless. 
Can either of us let go of this so we can all create 
our vibrant urban community? 

With differences like these, it's a time for 
deep and heartfelt sharing, of asking ourselves 
"Is this realistic?" "Will this work for me?" "Will 
this work for all of us?" "What's really important 
to each of us?" "What can I live without; what's 
not negotiable?" There is no real rule — you will 
need to navigate this unfolding territory as you 
think best. 

Writing it Down 

To help with the writing process, I suggest mak- 
ing the following posters on large sheets of easel 
paper (see below), and hanging them up as 
reminders of you what you're aiming for. 


• Can include Vision, Mission, sometimes 

• Vision: Shared future we want to create 

• Mission: What we'll be doins to create it 

• Goals: Shorter-term milestones we commit to 

• Vision Statement: Vision articulated briefly 


Many experienced communitarians believe that consen- 
sus is the appropriate process for decidins an issue as 
critical as the visionins process. "The consensus process 
itself fosters an attitude that can help forse a bond and 
build trust in your sroup," observes consensus facilitator 
Betty Didcoct. "When the input of everyone is honored, 
who knows what might surface — a strong single vision 
that draws everyone, or multiple visions that suggest the 
presence of more than one potential forming community." 

Other community activists, such as Rob Sandelin, sug- 
gest not using consensus for your visioning process. For 
consensus to work well your group must have a common 
purpose, and when you're still in the visioning process, it 
doesn't have it yet. A group needs a method, he says, 
such as, say, 75 percent voting, in which some people 
can diverge radically from others about what they want in 
the community without bringing the whole process to a 
crashing halt. I personally agree with this view, although 
there are groups out there who employed consensus for 
their visioning process and it worked just fine. 



You may want to test your vision documents and vision 
statement asainst the following criteria: 

For you as an individual: 

1 . Do you feel good when you read the written expres- 
sion of your vision? 

2. Is it meaningful for you? If not, how would it need to 
be changed to make it meaningful? 

3. Does it resonate with your personal sense of identity? 
Do you feel as if you can "own" it? 

4. Does it inspire you? 

For your group: 

1 . Is your vision document simple, clean, and authentic? 

2. Does it reveal and announce your group's core val- 

3. Does it focus on the "who," "what," and "why" of your 

4. Is it fairly concrete and grounded (not vague or flowery)? 

5. After you read it, can you remember it? Do you "see" it? 

6. Does it express your purpose? 

7. Does it inspire your group? 

8. Does it generate excitement? 

9. Does it showwhatyour community will be like when 
your vision is achieved? 

10. Does it express passion, conviction, and commitment? 

11. Is it possible in the current zoning, building-code, 
and lending environment? 

Your Vision Statement: 

1 Is it clear, concise, and compelling? 

2. Does it express your vision and purpose? 

Does it also reveal and announce your core values? 

Is it fairly short? Can you memorize it? 

Can you identify with it? 

Does it inspire you? 

Do others "get it" right away? 

Does it seem reasonable? Is it unrealistic? Is it too 



• Expresses vision and mission/purpose 

• Clear, concise, compelling 

• I dea I ly short, 20-40 words 

• Ideally memorized 

• Helps awaken vision 

• It's what others see first 

One way to do this is for everyone to go home 
and write their own idea of what the community's 
vision statement would be. At the next meeting 
read each person's version, then get into groups of 
three and merge them. Then select a committee 
of three or four people to write a rough draft of 
vision documents and/or a vision statement 
based on the groups' merged statements. Include 
in this writing group, if possible, a visionary 
thinker, a systems thinker, and someone skilled 
with words. It works best having a small group 
write something to present to the group because 
it's much easier to respond to something already 
written than it is for everyone to sit around and 
try to write the whole thing as a group. At the 
next meeting, the group reviews the first draft, 
decides what it likes and doesn't, makes sugges- 
tions and refinements, and sends the amended 
draft back to the small group for more work. This 
round robin word-crafting process can occur as 
many times as needed until the full group pro- 
nounces the vision documents complete. 

Next — power imbalances in communities, 
and how your decision making and other self- 
governance methods can spread power equally 
among members. 

^Chapter 6^> 

Power, Decision-makins, and Governance 

than those led by a single spiritual teacher 
or leader, intend that power be shared equally 
among members. But certain members may still 
have considerably more power than others. 
Much of the conflict in a core group or commu- 
nity occurs over issues of unequal distribution of 

Sometimes the power imbalance is caused by 
one or more people dominating meetings and 
committees. These folks might have a dominat- 
ing communication style — interrupting, talking 
loudly "talking over" others, or speaking with 
such intensity and certainty that no one can 
oppose them. This means they end up having a 
lot of the power in the group. 

Or maybe they have fine communication 
skills but unintentionally dominate meetings 
and committees because they have more infor- 
mation about issues than others do. These peo- 
ple arrive with a briefcase, clipboard, pocket cal- 
culator, and a sheaf of documents about how it's 
done. Who could disagree? 

Still others are fine communicators and don't 
know any more than anyone else, but they've got 
such energy and force in their personality that 
people instinctively look to them for leadership. 
Without meaning to, they've got a lot of power 

in the group. Some appreciate them; others 
resent them. 

Sometimes the power imbalance involves 
someone being more influential than others 
because of his or her role in the community. In 
some communities one person, often a founder, 
seems to have considerably more influence over 
decisions than others, even if the community 
uses democratic decision-making. The power- 
person might have established the original vision 
for the community, put up all or most of the 
money, and/or lived there the longest. Other 
community members habitually defer to his or 
her opinion, even if the group officially believes 
everyone has equal say. 

Power — The Ability to Influence 

People who have power and privilege in a group 
usually aren't aware of it. They usually exercise it 
innocently and don't notice that it's not reciprocal. 

Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad in The Guru 
Papers define "power" as the ability of a person or 
system to influence other persons or systems — 
and it's neither good nor bad. They distinguish 
between plain and simple "power" and "the 
authoritarian use of power." (Italics mine.) When 
people have authoritarian power, they enforce or 
perpetuate their power by punishing or ignoring 


those who disagree with them. This distinction 
helped me see that the authoritarian use of 
power is something most of us want to avoid, yet 
"power" — our ability to influence each other — 
is not only not negative, but something which, if 
we encourage it equally in our group, can benefit 
all of us. 

I see decision making as the main power- 
point in a community — who makes decisions 
and how they make them. Power imbalances can 
be greatly reduced by using a fair, participatory 
decision-making method that spreads power 
equally and offers checks and balances against 
power abuses. (Everyone's having good commu- 
nication skills certainly helps too.) Not having a 
fair, participatory decision- making method early 


Sowing Circle/OAEC founders chose consensus for five 
reasons, which they describe in one of their community 

Consensus creates and strensthens a spirit of trust, coop- 
eration, and respect among the Partners (members): 

• By incorporating the clearest thinking of all 
Partners, consensus increases the likelihood of 
new, better, and more creative decisions. 

• Because all have participated in its formation, 
everyone has a stake in implementing decisions. 

• Consensus significantly lessens the possibility that 
a minority will feel that an unacceptable decision 
has been imposed on them. 

• Consensus safeguards against ego/adversary atti- 
tudes, uninformed decision-making, "rubber 
stamping" of decisions, coercion, self-interested 
positions, mistrust, and half-hearted agreements. 

in your group will almost certainly generate con- 
flict over power imbalances at some point. I con- 
sider this another kind of structural conflict, 
because putting this kind of decision- making 
method in place at the beginning is a "structure" 
which can help protect against it. 

(Of course, simply having a fair decision 
making method doesn't address power imbal- 
ances triggered by dominating, intimidating, or 
manipulative behaviors outside of meetings, tak- 
ing unilateral actions that affect the community 
without first checking with others, or breaking 
community agreements. These issues will be 
addressed in Chapters 17 and 18.) 

Focused Power, Widespread Power 

If a community chooses a single person or a 
committee to make certain decisions, they've got 
focused power — which is good for decisions 
which must be made quickly or which require 
special expertise. 

With majority-rule voting, power is theoret- 
ically spread widely, and everyone has it. 
However, in controversial issues, where the vote 
may be split 51-49 percent, half the group has all 
the power, the other half has none. 

Consensus decision- making is a group deci- 
sion-making process in which all present must 
agree before action is taken. It's based on the 
belief that everyone has a piece of the truth. The 
intention is that each person in a meeting is 
given the time and space to speak their truth, and 
is listened to with respect. If done correctly, this 
method can help to spread power throughout 
the whole group, and is the method chosen most 
often by contemporary community founders. 

How Consensus Works 

While there are many styles of consensus, in 
general it works like this: Members don't vote Yes 


or No on motions. Rather, proposals are intro- 
duced, discussed, and eventually decided upon. 
Proposals don't necessarily remain as they were 
introduced, but are improved or modified to 
meet people's concerns as necessary. When it's 
time to decide, people either give consent to the 
proposal, stand aside from it, or block it. 

Giving consent doesn't necessarily mean loving 
every aspect of the final version of the proposal, 
but being able to live with it and being willing to 
support it. 

Standing aside is an act of what's sometimes 
called "principled non-participation," in which 
someone can't personally support the proposal, 
but doesn't want to stop the rest of the group 
from adopting it. People who stand aside are 
noted in the minutes, and, depending on the 
group's agreements, may not have to help imple- 
ment it (but they are still subject to it). 

Blocking the proposal stops it from being 
adopted, at least for the time being. It is not used 
for personal reasons, or because someone doesn't 
like how the decision may affect them personal- 
ly. "Blocking is a serious matter," writes consen- 
sus teacher Bea Briggs, "to be done only when 
one truly believes that the pending proposal, if 
adopted, would violate the morals, ethics, or 
safety of the whole group." Caroline Estes, 
another well-known consensus teacher, often 
says that people who understand consensus well 
will only block a proposal three or four times in 
their lifetime — and in 50 years of consensus 
practice, she's never blocked once. (Caroline fur- 
ther notes that people who often want to block a 
group's proposals are probably operating on a 
different set of values than other members and 
may be in the wrong group.) 

A proposal is passed when everyone in the 
meeting gives consent, even if one or more peo- 
ple stand aside. It is not passed if at least one per- 

son blocks it. (Some groups don't proceed if 
more than one person stands aside, believing 
that the group doesn't have enough unity to go 
forward with the proposal.) 

When a group uses consensus to make a 
decision, they can only change that decision by 
reaching another consensus. It may take longer 
to make decisions using consensus than it does 
when using majority-rule voting, especially at 
first. However, implementing a proposal once it's 
agreed upon usually takes far less time. Majority- 
rule voting, in which up to half the people can be 
unhappy with a decision, often generates foot- 
dragging and other forms of unconscious sabo- 
tage when it comes to implementing the propos- 
al. With consensus, a decision often takes longer 
to decide, but far less time to implement since 
everyone's behind it. 

A consensus meeting is not "run" by a chair- 
person, but served by agenda planners and a 
facilitator. For each meeting, the agenda planners 
create an agenda which will help the group 
address relevant topics in a certain order and 
within certain time frames for a well-paced, 
effective meeting. The facilitator's job is to con- 
sider the needs of the group as a whole, create an 
atmosphere of trust and safety, help those who 
want to do so to participate in the discussion 
(and not let anyone dominate), help the group 
stick to its agenda contract, keep the group 
focused and on task, and assess how well the 
group is agreeing, before testing for consensus. 

Consensus is essentially a conservative 
approach to decision making — if everyone in 
your group cannot support the proposal, you 
don't adopt the proposal, or you change the pro- 
posal. While in the consensus process theoretical- 
ly one person can stop a group from moving for- 
ward on a proposal, this is a rare event in a well- 
trained group. People objecting to a proposal 


voice their concerns openly from the beginning, 
and the group attempts to modify and refine the 
proposal to meet these concerns. If after much 
discussion, there isn't much support for the 
modified proposal, the facilitator doesn't call for 
a decision, but lays aside the proposal for a 
future meeting, or calls for a committee to sug- 
gest new solutions at a later meeting. 

Consensus generates an entirely different 
dynamic among meeting participants than 
majority-rule voting. With the latter, competing 
factions usually try to win converts to their posi- 
tion by criticizing the other position and creat- 
ing an "us versus them" atmosphere. But consen- 
sus creates an incentive for supporters of a pro- 
posal to seek out those who disagree with them 
and really try to understand their objections — 
and to reform the proposal to incorporate the 
other members' concerns. Conflicts and differ- 
ences can arise using consensus as often as they 
do when using other forms of decision making, 
but in consensus conflicts are seen as a catalyst to 
creating more innovative solutions and crafting 
an agreement out of all the different concerns 
that people raise. So consensus is not compro- 
mise, which weakens everyone's interests, but a 
creative meta-solution, which, ideally, strength- 
ens everyone's interests. 

Because the consensus facilitator draws out 
the ideas and concerns of each member and 
doesn't let the more articulate or energetic mem- 
bers dominate, consensus empowers a group as a 
group. Majority-rule voting usually rewards the 
most aggressive members but disempowers the 
group as a whole. 

Done well, consensus can transform meet- 
ings from overlong, frustrating, draining ses- 
sions that go nowhere and elicit people's worst 
behaviors, to spirited, stimulating events where 
everyone's ideas are valued and the group comes 

up with surprisingly creative and workable 

In a well-trained group with good facilita- 
tion, using consensus can elevate the conscious- 
ness of a group. It's not just a decision- making 
technique, but a philosophy of inclusion, draw- 
ing out the ideas, insights, and wisdom of every- 
one's "piece of the truth." 

But it's not a panacea and it won't work in 
every situation. To get the full power and impact 
of this process, certain elements must be present. 

What You Need to Make Consensus 

Willingness to learn the process. Consensus 
needs to be taught thoroughly, and its basic prin- 
ciples periodically reviewed. I can't emphasize 
strongly enough the need for training: the more 
people in your group who understand consen- 
sus, the better it will work. Training often takes 
place in one or more weekends or multi-day 
workshops, with plenty of opportunity to prac- 
tice. Fortunately there's a wealth of consensus 
trainers who can help, and articles and books to 
get you started. 

(See resources for more information on consensus 
trainers, see 

Common purpose. Without a shared vision and 
common purpose to focus and unify your efforts, 
your group can bounce around endlessly 
between confusion, frustration, and grim battles 
for control. In the times when you find your- 
selves yelling at each other or your momentum 
halted by apathy or despair, you need a common 
touchstone to return to. You need to remember 
where you're going and why you're going there — 
one of the reasons you spend so much time and 
energy creating your community vision. 


Willingness to share power. For many, consensus 
requires a kind of paradigm shift — from an 
impatient "I know best" attitude to a simple 
acceptance of and respect for other human beings. 
Folks who are used to being in charge — alpha 
males and females, articulate dynamos, and people 
who usually think they know better than others 
— can have an especially hard time with consen- 
sus at first. If your group is top-heavy with such 
folks you might want to think twice about using 
this method, and ask if they are willing to give up 
such roles and innate assumptions. And related 
to this: 

Willingness to let go of personal attachments 
in the best interests of the group. If your main 
concern is what the decision will be and whether 
it'll be the one you want, it's unlikely you're prac- 
ticing deep listening, holistic thinking, and let- 
ting go of your preconceived ideas, say consensus 
trainers Betty Didcoct and Paul DeLapa. 

Trusting in the process, and trusting each other. 

This means believing that by continuing to share 
ideas and concerns about a proposal with each 
other, you will come up with a much better solu- 
tion than any one of you could have thought of 
alone. It's believing that there is a solution, and 
that together you'll reach it. It's assuming that 
everyone is doing his or her best to listen to one 
another's point of view. It takes willingness just to 
sit patiently through the ongoing discussion, even 
though you don't yet know how it will turn out or 
how the issue will get solved. 

Humility.'! have come to believe that one of the 
foundations of successful consensus process is 
personal humility." says consensus facilitator Rob 
Sandelin. "When you can consider that your 
beliefs about a community issue may be wrong. 

then you are ready to fully engage in consensus. 
For example. I may not like the boy my daughter 
is dating and think he isn't a good companion for 
her. but I realize I might be wrong, that I might 
have misjudged him. and that the situation is 
safe enough that I can give my permission for her 
to date him knowing she will learn from the 
experience. Consensus is often about giving per- 
mission to go ahead, even if you are concerned 
about the outcome. You give permission in order 
to have experiences to learn from." 

Equal access to power. Consensus requires a 
level playing field. It doesn't work well when one 
person in a group is the employer, who could 
theoretically fire or demote the others; or when 
one member is the land owner, who could theo- 
retically sell the land or evict the others. 

Physical participation, and the right people 
present. In consensus no one decides by proxy, 
(although in well-trained groups, the interests of 
absent members are taken into account). 
Participation requires that people be there 
because agreements are built on what comes out 
of the discussion. And good decisions require 
good information to start with. Group members 
who might implement a decision, or have infor- 
mation or perspectives relative to a topic, need to 
attend the meeting. 

The right topics. Not all topics require that the 
whole group be present to decide. Some things 
can be decided by area managers or committees, 
based on the whole group's input. 

Well-crafted agendas. When a few designated 
people plan an agenda ahead of time, and when 
the whole group reviews, revises, and approves it 
at the beginning of a meeting, the group has just 


made a contract with itself for how they'll spend 
time in that meeting. Making such a contract 
and sticking to it goes a long way towards having 
effective, satisfying, upbeat meetings. Having no 
agenda, or an agenda controlled only by certain 
people, or a poorly crafted agenda, can diminish 
the group's trust and subject them to confused, 
dragging, time-wasting meetings. 

Skilled facilitation. The facilitator is not the 
group's leader or chairperson, but its servant, 
charged with the job of helping the group make 
the best decisions possible. The facilitator is 
empowered to help the group keep its process 
and agenda contract with itself, move forward in 
its discussion and decision-making tasks, and 
intervene when necessary. The facilitator doesn't 
participate in the discussion. (In many commu- 
nities several members learn facilitation so they 
can rotate the role. Some communities trade 
facilitation with other nearby communities, so 
everyone can take part in the discussion.) The 
facilitator is neutral about the topics being dis- 
cussed, and treats everyone equally, showing no 
favorites. He or she helps spread the power 
throughout the group by asking, "Have we heard 
from everyone?" "Does anyone have anything to 
add?" The facilitator seeks solutions, asking, 'Are 
there any other ideas?" The facilitator helps the 
group focus on where it is in the discussion by 
summarizing what's been said so far, by drawing 
out and clarifying decisions, and by asking, "Are 
we ready to move on?" With a skilled facilitator, 
community meetings which used to be irritating 
or unproductive can move more swiftly, which 
means its members tend to remain alert and 
energized, enjoy themselves, and get more done. 

I used to think consensus wouldn't work in a 
group with an aggressive member who'd steam- 
roller over others; or an angry, suspicious person 

who might block a decision out of sheer con- 
trariness. But I've learned that a good facilitator, 
like a kind of aikido master, can redirect the 
overly verbal, draw out shy folks, diffuse aggres- 
sive behavior, stop cross-talk, and repeatedly 
bring a group back to its task of making good 
decisions. "A good facilitator can save you up to 
50 percent of the group's time," notes Bea Briggs. 
"A poor one can easily cost the group as much." 

Enough time. Making good decisions takes 
time, especially when people are first learning 
new procedures. Arrange enough time in your 
meetings so that you won't feel rushed; as your 
group builds trust and experience together, you'll 
get more efficient at making decisions with this 

"Pseudoconsensus" and Structural 

"Many groups aren't trained in how to use con- 
sensus," says Caroline Estes. "When I get called 
in to help, it's usually because the group doesn't 
understand the process." 

When a group thinks it knows how to use 
consensus, but doesn't, it's a set-up for structural 
conflict. They proceed in ignorance, sowing seeds 
of frustration and resentment that can fester for 
years to come. Many political activists in the 
1960s and 70s assumed they were using consen- 
sus, but were often just guessing at it. This is 
what I call "pseudoconsensus," and it's widespread 
in communities. Here are some of its forms: 

• Big League Complex. The main problem in 
many forming community groups, says 
Caroline Estes, is when people are used to 
having their own way, or they believe they 
know better than others. I call this the"Big 
League Complex." It seems particularly 


prevalent when the group has a high per- 
centage of business executives or people 
in the helping professions, as is the case 
with many cohousing communities. 
"Participants in a consensus group must 
be willing to give up hierarchical roles and 
privileges and to function as equals," 
writes Bea Briggs. "The contributions of 
experts, professionals, and elders are, of 
course, welcome, but they must not be 
allowed to silence the voices of the other 

Decision by endurance. Another pseudo- 
consensus notion is the belief that people 
need to stay in the room until they make 
a decision, no matter how long it takes 
(even if that means until four in the 
morning, as many '60s-era political 
activists well recall.) If people believe they 
must keep talking about something for 
hours and hours until they all agree, their 
meeting is not well-facilitated and/or 
their agenda wasn't well planned. A good 
facilitator keeps to the agendas planned 
schedule and suggests unconcluded items 
be tabled for future meetings and/or 
sends items to committee. 

Everyone decides everything. Some groups 
flounder in frustration and burnout 
because they believe everyone in the 
group must be involved in every decision, 
no matter how small. Not true. The 
whole group is usually needed for decid- 
ing major policy issues; smaller issues can 
often be decided by committees, operat- 
ing with general guidelines from or over- 
sight by the whole group. 

"I block, I block!" Pseudoconsensus seems 
especially prevalent in cohousing com- 

munities, whose members often seem to 
misunderstand blocking. I've heard of 
cohousing core groups in which people 
sometimes blocked proposals because, for 
example, someone wanted this kind of 
front door and no other, saying,'Tm sorry 
but that just doesn't work for me." This is 
not consensus; it's self-indulgence. Then 
there was the forming cohousing group 
where a member living in another state, 
reading about a particular proposal on 
the agenda of the next meeting, sent word 
that he disagreed with the proposal and 
was blocking in advance, so there'd be no 
need to discuss it. This poor fellow didn't 
have a clue that you don't do this with 
consensus — but the group hadn't a clue 
either, since they let him do it! A trained 
group knows blocking is used only when 
someone's "piece of the truth" shows them 
something important the rest of the 
group hasn't seen. One uses this privilege 
after a time of earnest, objective, soul- 
searching. Not understanding the block- 
ing privilege is what can make pseudo- 
consensus dangerous. A whole group can 
be held hostage to such tyranny. (C.T 
Butler's Formal Consensus process has a 
further safeguard, which some consensus 
facilitators call the "principled objection" 
— a block can only stand if it is consis- 
tent with the group's stated purpose. If 
the group believes it's not consistent with 
their purpose, the block is not valid.) 

Consensus is like a chain saw. It can chop a lot 
of wood, but it can also chop your leg! The point 
— you have to be trained to use consensus, or its 
improper use can hurt you. Not getting trained in 
consensus is another form of structural conflict. 


Rob Sandelin says, "If even one person in your 
group doesn't fully understand consensus — 
don't use it." 

Agreement-Seeking — When You Don't 
Want to use Full Consensus 

Agreement-seeking methods fall in between 
majority-rule voting and consensus and can 
include elements of both. 

Super-majority voting. As in consensus, people 
try to build agreement for a proposal and modi- 
fy the proposal as needed, but they vote for or 
against it. The proposal must receive many more 
"Yes" votes than a simple majority to pass. 
Depending on what the group has decided in 
advance, the required majority can be anywhere 
from 55 to, say, 95 percent. 

Voting fallback. The group attempts to come to 
consensus once, or twice, and if they don't reach 
consensus, they fall back to a percentage of vot- 
ing the group has previously decided on, any- 
where from majority- rule (51 percent) to, say, a 
95 percent vote. 

Consensus-minus-one or consensus-minus-two. 

In consensus-minus-one, a proposal still passes 
even if someone blocks it (it takes two to block 
the proposal for it not to pass). In consensus- 
minus-two, a proposal still passes even if two peo- 
ple block (it takes three people to block the pro- 
posal for it not to pass). Consensus trainer 
Lysbeth Borie believes these terms are misnomers, 
since neither is actually "consensus," and suggests 
these methods might be more accurately termed 
agreement-minus-one or unity-minus-one. 

The sunset clause. In consensus, once a decision 
is made, it requires a consensus of the whole to 

change it. With a sunset clause, the group agrees 
on a proposal for a certain period of time; say a 
month, six months, a year, etc., at which time the 
decision is automatically discontinued and the 
situation reverts to what it was before. The deci- 
sion can be continued (or continued and modi- 
fied) only by a consensus of the whole. 

A sunset clause is a way for people who aren't 
fully supportive of a proposal to allow the whole 
group to try it for a while without requiring the 
agreement of the whole group to rescind or mod- 
ify it later if it doesn't work out. 

Consensus teacher Tree Bressen points out 
that in order for sunset clauses to work well, the 
group must have a well-functioning agenda list 
and tracking mechanism for decisions so that the 
item will be brought up again later. Otherwise 
those group members who went along with the 
decision reluctantly may not be so willing the 
next time someone proposes a sunset clause. 

Multi-winner Voting 

Another decision-making method that spreads 
power equally in a group involves finding a way 
for the greatest number of members to get the 
most of what they want. Multi-winner voting is 
a system adopted from European parliamentary 
elections in which each person gets a certain 
number of votes to spread across a range of 

Sharingwood Cohousing in Washington 
State uses multi-winner voting as a proportion- 
al spending method for its annual discretionary 
funding allocation. Once a year Sharingwood 
members hold a "budget party" to decide what 
projects they'll fund the following year. They 
dress up in fancy clothes for wine and cheese in 
their Common House. Each member receives 
an envelope of play money as they enter, which 
represents his or her real power in the decision 


making. This is the amount of money in the dis- 
cretionary budget fund for the following year, 
divided by the number of community members 

— "voters" — who attend the budget party. 
Various members or committees sponsor 

projects theyd like to see funded the following 
year, and set up displays in the room, which the 
guests visit during the evening. A "New Retaining 
Wall" display, for example, might have a short 
sample rock wall and a member-advocate of the 
project who explains the benefits of the project. 

Party guests spend various amounts of their 
play money on one or more of the proposed proj- 
ects they like best. As soon as a project gets whol- 
ly funded its sponsors ring a bell and announce it 

— "The retaining wall is funded!" — to every- 
one's cheers. Since more projects are proposed for 
the next year than Sharingwood has money for, 
not all projects get enough play- money funding. 
At the end of the budget party sponsors of the 
least-funded projects donate their contributions 
to the almost-funded projects. This way the 
greatest number of people fund the greatest num- 
ber of their favorite projects. 

Community Governance — Spreading 
Power Widely 

In communities, as well as in core groups, every- 
one needn't decide everything — it's too 
unwieldy. So how does a group manage decisions 
so that power is balanced and everyone has input 
into decisions, yet meetings don't take too long, 
and people aren't driven crazy with details? The 
"ten percent" communities profiled in this book 
all govern themselves with whole-group-meet- 
ings and a series of smaller committees. 

Let's consider the method used by Earthaven 
Ecovillage in North Carolina. Full group meet- 
ings, called Council, are held over two days, one 
weekend a month. In Council, significant and 

wide-ranging community and policy issues are 
decided upon. Day-to-day work is accomplished 
by smaller committees overseeing finance, physi- 
cal infrastructure, membership issues, and so on. 
Committees are set up by the Council, and 
report to it. The committees decide on issues 
and distribute a record of their minutes and all 
decisions to members by email and by posting 
them in the kitchen and Council Hall. After 
posting, the community has three weeks in 
which to offer concerns regarding a decision. In 
that event, the proposal goes back to the discus- 
sion stage for further refinement and revision, 
which is also posted for three weeks for every- 
one's OK. If a committee decision is not chal- 
lenged in the three-week period, it stands. This 
way, every community member who reads the 
committee minutes can keep track of each com- 
mittee's activity, and oversee all community deci- 
sions. Additionally, committees may bring pro- 
posals about more significant issues to Council 
for discussion and decision by the group. 

More than One Form of Decision 

As we've seen, although consensus often takes 
longer than other methods, its decisions are usu- 
ally implemented faster. However, because form- 
ing-community groups must sometimes decide 
things quickly, particularly when a land-purchase 
may be involved, some community veterans rec- 
ommend having an alternate, faster process in 

And some groups might have more than one 
decision- making method, using different meth- 
ods for different kinds of decisions. If some com- 
munity members own the property and others 
are tenants, for example, the group might use 
consensus for most decisions, and a super- 
majority method solely for decisions affecting 


property value; or have a decision-making body 
(that uses consensus) comprised only of proper- 
ty owners who make decisions affecting proper- 
ty value. (However, doing so will probably bring 
up power issues, unless all members understand 
who makes which decisions, and agree to this 

when they enter the community.) It's important 
to be flexible, and know when it's appropriate to 
be inclusive and when to be more directive in 
decision- making. You must agree in advance on 
which method you're using before starting a 


Quaker style. Consensus was developed by Quakers 
in seventeenth century Ensland as an extension of 
their beliefs in equality, nonviolence, and everyday 
accessibility to divine suidance. In Quaker meetinss 
people sit silently, seek a place of inner tranquility and 
guidance, and don't offer their opinions unless they 
believe they're divinely inspired to do so. 

Native American style. Certain Native American 
tribes have traditionally made decisions in the context 
of being moved by Spirit before speaking, respectful- 
ly listening to one another, and giving particular 
weight to the voice of community elders. 

"Community" style. Derived from these traditions 
and by the contemporary communities movement, 
what I call "community" style considers emotions that 
come up in meetings as potentially relevant input for 
decisions. If someone is angry or tearful in a meeting, 
for example, a community-style facilitator would use 
the person's upset as an opportunity to find out what 
"pieces of truth" about a proposal or a group dynam- 
ic those feelings may contain. 

Consensus by individual su/cfence. Developed by 
various community activists in the early '80s (including 
Betty Didcoct, and members of Sirius community), 
this method involves meditating and seeking spiritual 
guidance before beginning the meeting, so that any 
decisions may be informed by intuition and spiritual 
guidance. It's very similar to the practices of Quakers 

and Native Americans, but without a specifically reli- 
gious or cultural context. 

Formal Consensus. Facilitator C.T. Butler devel- 
oped this as a step-by-step (hence "formal") process 
to address the typical problems of consensus as used 
by members of political activist groups. The first step, 
once a proposal is made, is to ask only clarifying 
questions. In the next step, people state only objec- 
tions and concerns, which are written on a large easel 
pad and grouped according to topic. In the third 
step these groups of concerns are addressed, one at 
a time, with discussion and suggestions for refining or 
modifying the proposal. The last step is calling for 
consensus. The steps can occur sequentially in one 
meeting, but for more complex or controversial top- 
ics are usually spread across several different meet- 
ings. Proposals can be blocked only when the group 
agrees that the person's reasons for the block are 
based in the group's vision and values, called the 
"principled objection." If not, the block is considered 
invalid and the proposal passes anyway. This step 
prevents a group from being covertly disrupted by 
someone not aligned with the group's vision and val- 
ues, as is often found in non-profit organizations and 
cohousing communities He finds that this way of 
treating blocking allows non-profits and cohousers to 
include these people without being held hostage to 
their ability to block the group from moving towards 
its intended purpose. 


Other community activists caution against 
using a so-called "fallback" decision-making 
method in addition to consensus, for two rea- 
sons. First, if someone blocks a proposal, the 
people who want the proposal to pass can just sit 
back and say, "No matter, we'll just switch to 75 
percent voting now and pass it anyway." The 
group won't try to keep re-crafting and honing 
the proposal to meet that one person's concerns. 
In consensus, the idea is that when concerns 
about a proposal are met, it makes a better decision. 
A "fallback" method is likely to result in lower- 
quality decisions. (And as consensus trainer 
Patricia Allison points out, willingness to stop 
the consensus process and simply vote because 
someone has blocking concerns means they 
group's not really using consensus.) Second, 
many facilitators point out that consensus is not 
just a method but a philosophy of inclusion. 
When individuals are less able to influence the 
group's decisions because it has switched to a 
faster method, they see it as breaking down the 
trust and cohesion of the group. If there's pres- 
sure on the group to decide something quickly, 
people won't feel the time or space to get in touch 
with and express their concerns. They could feel 
pressured into deciding something they don't 
really want, and end up leaving the group as a 

I believe this issue hinges on whether you 
want to start a new community primarily to 
build its physical infrastructure and see who'll 
join you over time, or to create a place where you 
can enjoy connection and friendship with your 
existing group. If your reason is mostly to create 
a community and live with whomever resonates 
with its vision, you may want to use a faster deci- 
sion-making method than consensus (such as 
super-majority voting), in these circumstances, 
regardless of the current members you may lose. 

If your reason is to create a community with 
your current group of friends, you may want a 
more inclusive method like consensus that 
builds support and connection, regardless of the 
great land deals you might have to pass up. 

What Decision-making Method Should 
You Use? 

If you want to spread power widely, help bond 
the group more deeply, and evoke the shared wis- 
dom of the group for decisions, consider using 
consensus or an agreement-seeking method (or 
both). For spreading resources across a range of 
choices, try multi-winner voting. 

And for accomplishing many tasks without 
taking the whole group's time, consider setting 
up systems like Earthaven's Council and com- 
mittee structure. 

If you've chosen consensus, here are some 
ways to get trained in it: 

• Read Bea Briggs' Introduction to Consensus 
for an excellent overview of the process 
itself, and especially how to facilitate a 
consensus meeting. I suggest studying it, 
section by section, as a group. 

• Study the Formal Consensus process in 
C.T Butler's book, On Consensus and 
Conflict. I recommend Formal Consensus 
for inexperienced groups, as I think its 
step-by-step process is easier to learn and 
easier for beginners to facilitate. 

• Visit other community groups or politi- 
cal activist groups, and as a guest, observe 
their consensus process. 

• Hire a consensus trainer to come out and 
train your group. 

• Offer support to any group members 
who want to learn facilitation (including 
financial help for additional training), so 


you'll end up with a team of people who 
can rotate the job of facilitating your 

Some core groups and communities go all 
out to understand and practice consensus well, 
and their meetings show it. Sharingwood 
cohousing gives whatever approval and financial 
support necessary for the ongoing training of its 
process team. Members of Earthaven's core 
group arranged trainings by both Caroline Estes 
and C.T. Butler. 

In Part Two we'll look at some of the techni- 
cal tips and tools for growing a community — 
from making agreements and setting up legal 
entities to finding, financing, and developing 
your community property — and how you'll 
raise enough money internally to pay property 
loans and operating expenses. 

Part Two: 

Chapter 7 

Agreements & Policies: "Good Documents 
Make Good Friends" 

f<"\7"ou'll be hearing from our lawyers!" said 

_L Steve and Sandy, faces grim, as they left 
the porch and strode to their car. Stunned, 
Darren and Maria stood in their doorway and 
watched the couple disappear down the long 
gravel road. Steve and Sandy had left a commu- 
nity I'll call Cottonwood Springs a few days ear- 
lier, saying they no longer wanted to be part of it. 
They'd just returned to demand their $22,000 
membership and site-lease fees back. 

"But, but ... you know we've spent all the 
money," Darren replied, not believing his ears. 
"On the balloon payment, the new roof, the 
pump repair." 

The lawyers showed up the next day with the 
papers for a lawsuit. Steve and Sandy wanted not 
only the return of their $22,000 for membership 
and site-lease fees, but $15,000 more for legal 
fees and damages, and $4,200 for"back wages" — 
a retroactive $10 for every hour they had worked 
in the new community since they'd joined two 
months before. 

This was a nightmare for Darren and Maria. 
After meeting for three years with other commu- 
nity-interested folks, they had found their ideal 
land, an owner-financed 83-acre ranch in rural 

Montana, but no one else in the group was quite 
ready to make the jump yet. Gambling on the 
power of their vision, the couple put most of 
their life's savings into the down payment and 
moved to the ranch, bringing their home-based 
pottery business with them. 

For two years they hosted a series of visitors, 
but no one became a member. 

"That's why we didn't finish our bylaws," says 
Maria, "since we didn't want to make unilateral 
decisions about the community without know- 
ing the wishes of any future members. We want- 
ed everyone to create it together." 

Steve and Sandy were the first visitors who 
really seemed "right." They loved the land and 
the vision of a self-reliant homesteading com- 
munity, and had great skills — he was a 
builder, she was a gardener. They had enough 
money for membership and site-lease fees, and 
were even able to move to the property and live 
in their RV. Best of all, they'd arrived in time 
to avert a looming financial crisis, since the 
first $13,000 balloon payment for the proper- 
ty was due in a few weeks. The newcomers 
seemed like the answer to Darren and Maria's 



The first month everyone was elated. 
Enjoying each others company they put in long 
hours of hard, rewarding work reroofing the 
barn that would become their kitchen/ dining 
room, replacing the well-pump, and upgrading 
the irrigation system. 

"It was fine with us that we hadn't worked on 
the bylaws any further" recalls Maria, "because 
we were working so hard to finish the roof and 
irrigation system while the weather was still 
good. We knew we'd get to it later." 

The second month Sandy began to point out 
aspects of Cottonwood Spring's site plan that 
she didn't like. Could she and Steve put their 
house over there, rather than where the plan 
indicated houses should be? Could they build 
their house with standard construction materials 
rather than the more labor-intensive alternative 
materials Darren and Maria wanted for commu- 
nity homes? 

Sandy and Maria began to get on each other's 
nerves. Maria wanted Sandy to stop trying to 
change Cottonwood Springs into something it 
wasn't. She hadn't counted on new people want- 
ing this much change. Sandy was frustrated, feel- 
ing unable to co- create the kind of community 
she and Steve had envisioned. Maria assumed 
that initial power struggles were normal, given 
that community living brings up people's issues. 
Also, as a long-time veteran of group process 
issues, Maria saw conflict not as a problem but 
as an opportunity to ultimately get more con- 
nected, once the conflict was resolved through 
deep personal sharing and coming to common 
agreement. But such ideas were foreign to Sandy, 
who took the increasing tension as a sign that 
things weren't working out. Relations between 
the founders and newcomers deteriorated until 
Darren and Maria proposed they have a serious 
process meeting. But this was too weird for Steve 

and Sandy, who thought, "That's not communi- 
ty!" They felt that they had no choice but to 

And that's when the newcomers found out 
that there was no provision for departing mem- 
bers to get their money back. 

All Darren and Maria had shown them were 
written descriptions of their ideas and visions, 
and a half-finished set of bylaws, "which," Maria 
recalls, "they said they agreed with." But with no 
signed contracts or legal documents, there were 
no agreements about what either party could or 
could not do. The newcomers were under no obli- 
gation to stick with the founder's visions and 
plans; the founders were under no obligation to 
pay anyone anything. Everyone was unhappy; but 
for a scrap of signed paper, there hangs the tale. 

They settled out of court. By refinancing the 
property (made possible by the balloon payment 
and recent property improvements), Darren and 
Maria returned Steve and Sandy's $22,000 mem- 
bership and site fees, but no additional claims. 
Although the founders didn't lose their property, 
they lost a great deal — a new friendship, the 
excitement of creating a real community at last, 
and a good deal of their own energy and heart 
for community. Steve and Sandy got their money 
back, but not their injured pride or dignity, and 
certainly not their community dreams. 
Disgusted and embittered, they never wanted to 
see another intentional community again. 

Remembering Things Differently 

True stories just like this one happen all too 

Some forming communities have made ver- 
bal agreements — but ... what was it we said 
again? I may remember that, according to our 
work-equity agreement, if we were to disband 
our community and sell the property. I'd be 


compensated in actual earned wages, in real dol- 
lar amounts. But you may remember agreeing 
that I'd be compensated only as a percentage of 
the sale price. This would never become a prob- 
lem — unless we decide to disband and sell our 
property. Why wouldn't normally savvy folks 
like us write it all down? 

Heartbreaking though it is — because it's so 
simple to prevent — many forming communi- 
ties flounder or sink because its founders don't 
write down their agreements at the outset. 
Months or years later, when they try to conjure 
up what they thought they agreed on, they 
remember things differently. Unfortunately even 
people with the greatest goodwill can recall a 
conversation or an agreement in such divergent 
ways that each may wonder if the other is trying 
to cheat or abuse or manipulate them. This is 
one of the most common and most devastating 
structural- conflict time bombs. 

Why do so many would-be communitarians 
not put agreements in writing? Why does this 
kind of structural conflict happen so often? 

I believe many idealistic, visionary people 
think the only reason to sign an agreement or 
contract would be to prevent someone else from 
cheating them. And who wants to suggest that 
their community colleagues might do that?! It's 
too embarrassing to bring up; it's not polite; it's 
in poor taste. "If I suggested we write this down 
and sign it, what kind of rude person might they 
think I am?" 

Then there's the anguish of people who'd like 
the world to be a better place — want to help it 
become a better place — and can't bring them- 
selves to agree to such documents because on 
some level, wouldn't that just be inducing distrust 
and suspicion? Couldn't we keep distrust and 
potential cheating away from us by simply not 
ever thinking about it? 

Well-meaning folks such as these can keep 
their scruples if they keep in mind these three 
tendencies of the recollection process: 

1. Jack remembers vividly what he meant — 
what he believed and mentally pictured 
vividly — but not what he actually said. 
(People often don't say what they mean: not 
in an attempt to deceive, but because of poor 
communication skills. ) Not knowing what 
Jack meant, Jill recalls only his actual words. 
But that's not what he remembers at all. 

2. Jill is sure she remembers what Jack said — 
but she didn't actually pay close attention to 
his words at the time. Rather, she was uncon- 
sciously so focused on what she herself 
believed about the subject, that she thought 
Jack had said what she believed. But it's not 
what he said at all. He remembers what he 
said — but not what Jill was thinking while he 
said it! 

3. Jack says something and, seeing Jill nodding in 
agreement, he assumes that the communica- 
tion that he intended in his mind was the com- 
munication that was received in her mind. But 
it wasn't. Jill interpreted what she heard him 
say as something else entirely. Once again, 
they're not remembering the same thing. 

Giving Yourselves Every Chance of 

Communication can get so fouled up, and so 
fast — it makes no sense not to just check it out 
by having a group member write down what 
everyone thinks they're agreeing to and then 
read it back, or have everyone read it. Now is the 
time to say, "Wait a minute; this isn't what we 
just said," rather than dredging up remembered 
differences months or years later, when people's 
life savings or their major life decisions may be 
at stake. 


Obviously, you'll improve how well everyone 
remembers an agreement if you not only write it 
down, but also ask everyone to sign it. While not 
appropriate for every kind of agreement or writ- 
ten document, pretending you're the Ben 
Franklins and John Hancocks of your own 
Declarations can be rewarding, especially if doc- 
uments are signed ceremonially. Of course, it's 
also a good idea to keep your agreements in a 
safe place (or in two different safe places), and 
refer to them as needed. 

"But just having written documents, or having 
them with our signatures, doesn't guarantee any- 
thing," you might say. 'Anyone can break those 
agreements anytime. What's a piece of paper?" 

Formal written contracts between people, 
and documents for legal structures such as 
bylaws are only binding when someone not abid- 
ing by them is taken to court and forced to com- 
ply on pain of fines or jail. And while this is cer- 
tainly not something you'll want to see happen, 
this potential consequence does serve as a kind 
of deterrent. 

A more powerful deterrent is social pressure. 
Legal documents and formal contracts as well as 
other kinds of written agreements, such as meet- 
ing minutes, decision logs, behavioral norms, and 
so on, can easily be breached, but not without 
everyone in the community knowing they were 
breached and by whom. Social pressure and the 
possibility of group displeasure can be a strong 
motivator for keeping agreements, even among 
people who believe that they wouldn't need such 
pressure to keep agreements. Social pressure 
works most of the time, and it's certainly better 
than what happened to the folks at Cottonwood 

"Good documents make good friends," notes 
Vinnie McKenny, founder of Elixir Farm, a suc- 
cessful herb farm and small intentional commu- 

nity in Missouri. Vinnie knows whereof she 
speaks. She not only has created a successful 
business and several non-profit projects with var- 
ious friends, but also has a strong background in 
the administration side of philanthropic giving 
and has worked with significant donors. Vinnie 
knows how the world works, in my opinion, and 
knows the value of making everything agreed 
upon between even the best of friends crystal 
clear and unambiguous — and written down. 

Your Community's Agreements and 

You'll have agreements, often called "policies" or 
"guidelines," both in the forming-community 
stage and later, when you're living on your prop- 
erty. The forming-stage documents could 
include vision documents and policies about 
your group's membership and decision- making 
processes, communication norms, finances, and 
the land-search process. These are often record- 
ed in meeting minutes, decision logs, covenants, 
and informal contracts. 

As you establish a legal entity, purchase 
property, and move to the community, you'll 
probably make additional agreements for the fol- 
lowing kinds of community issues: 

• Community labor and one-time or peri- 
odic fees owed. 

• Land-use and ecological guidelines. 

• How ongoing or periodic community 
expenses will be paid; what happens in 
the event of cost overruns. 

• Policies for dogs and other pets, children, 
noise, tool use, conserving water or elec- 
tric power, or the use of drugs , alcohol, 
tobacco, or firearms. 

• The processes by which new members 
join the community. 


• New members' expected financial contri- 
butions and labor requirements. 

• The processes by which members may 
leave the community, including how, or if, 
they will be reimbursed any of their 
membership fees or other expenses. 

• Behavioral norms, including how the 
community will handle people violating 
those norms, and the consequences for 
doing so. 

• Grounds for, and the process of, asking 
someone to leave the community. 

Some of these agreements will be recorded in 
the formal documents associated with the legal 
entity you'll form to purchase land together, or to 
conduct any non-profit activities or operate a 
community-owned business. These can include 
Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws (corpora- 
tions), Partnership Agreements (partnerships), 
or operating agreements (Limited Liability 
Companies), for example, depending on which 
legal structure(s) you choose. (These will be 
examined more closely in Chapters 15 and 16.) 
Other agreements may be recorded in docu- 
ments such as leases, promissory notes, real 
estate deeds, and contracts, and still others may 
be in simple policies your group drafts, approves, 
and implements. 

Many forming communities are so over- 
whelmed with organizational or construction 
tasks in their early years — or simply don't antic- 
ipate what they might need — that they create 
certain policies and agreements only when a cri- 
sis reveals the need for them. 

That's what happened to the Community 
Alternatives Society in Vancouver. While they 
had agreements about financial and labor 
requirements, and guidelines about how they'd 
use and maintain their common facilities, they 

had no policy about people's behavior, since they 
all seemed to behave reasonably well. The nor- 
mal conflicts were handled by their communica- 
tion processes, and their differences of opinion 
were addressed in consensus meetings. But after 
living together in relative harmony for 11 years, 
they discovered that a member had done some- 
thing so unacceptable it forced the issue. They 
realized they needed rules about behavior, and 
more importantly, an agreement about what to 
do if anyone breached them. The group came up 
with one of the wisest and most humane com- 
munity behavioral policies I've seen, with not 
only a clear description of members' rights and 
responsibilities, but also a graduated series of 
consequences when someone violated them. 

Other communities anticipate the kinds of 
agreements they'll need over time and begin creat- 
ing them early on, as did the founders of 
Abundant Dawn community in Virginia (most of 
whom had previously lived in other communities). 
They began working on their policies and agree- 
ments in 1994, three years before they found and 
moved to their land. Some of these were a collec- 
tion of different agreements they made over time, 
that they later compiled as a policy on a given sub- 
ject. In other cases they just sat down and created 
a policy step by step. As of this writing, eight years 
later, some agreements are completed; others are 
approved by the whole group but need more work- 
still others are in draft form and not yet approved. 
They've saved the actual writing of some formal 
contracts and leases until they've agreed on the 
policies which those contracts will contain. 

Their agreements, some of which are listed 
below, illustrate the kinds of issues most forming 
communities address sooner or later, depending 
on their living arrangements and the degree of 
shared resources. These are the kinds of issues 
your group will need to consider. I suggest you 


use Abundant Dawn's list to stimulate your own 
thinking on which agreements your group wants 
to make, and when. 

Creating agreements like these is serious 
business and requires a lot of time and care. 
(Abundant Dawn's founders estimate that the 
number of person-hours they've spent creating 
their agreements, both in committees and com- 
munity meetings, to be in the thousands.) Some 
people might consider the number and complex- 
ity of Abundant Dawn's agreements excessive, 
but I think it's smart. This is a community 
founded by experienced communitarians — and 
it's one of the ten percent. 

Abundant Dawn's Agreements 

Vision Statement. The who, what, and why of 
Abundant Dawn community. 

Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws. Part of 
Abundant Dawn's documents as a non-exempt 

Membership Policy. Rights and responsibilities 
for different kinds of membership, commit- 
ments, sabbaticals, part-time members, how 
membership ends. 

Community Structure Overview. Sections on 
community legal structure, community culture, 
decision-making and governance, pod structure, 
forming pods, pod joining fee. (A "pod" is a 
smaller subcommunity within Abundant 
Dawn.) This document addresses balancing 
members' desire for freedom with their desire 
not to be negatively impacted by the choices 
made by their neighbors (with regard to noise, 
nudity, etc.). 

Food Policy. Description of bulk food purchase 

and distribution, use of the community garden, 
and how food resources are shared. 

Conflict Resolution Document. More of an 
evolving plan than a policy, this document 
describes methods for resolving conflicts, 
including but not limited to full-group process 

Financial Policy. The Financial Overview 
encompasses all agreements about money, 
including all community income sources and 
expenses, members' financial obligations, what 
the community does and doesn't pay for, and 
what happens in a financial emergency. The 
Formula Agreement describes their formula for 
determining the monthly fees owed by each pod 
or subcommunity within Abundant Dawn, 
based on the pod's current number of people and 
cars, and each pod member's annual income. 

Visitor Policy. Guidelines for how to host visi- 
tors seeking a community to join. 

On-Land Business Policy. How members own 
and operate businesses in the community, 
including financial relationships, community 
control, non-members as co-owners or employ- 
ees, permission, and contracts. 

Land Planning. Overall site plan for communi- 
ty land. 

Environmental Guidelines for Building. 

Description of the various sustainability factors 
to consider in building a home. 

Forestry Policy. Guidelines for use and care of 
forest, including when and how trees can be cut, 
how firewood can be gathered, etc. 


Pet Policy. How many dogs and cats each pod 
may have, and how to minimize the animals' 
impact (especially the impact of outdoor cats 
and dogs) on both the wildlife that was already 
there, as well as on other community members. 

Expulsion Policy. What may be an expellable 
offense, and how a member would be asked to 
leave, financial resolution, etc. 

End of Abundant Dawn Community as We 
Know It. If the group could not continue as a 
community, this agreement shows how they 

would dissolve the legal entity, sell their proper- 
ty to a land trust or become a land trust, contin- 
ue to live in the homes they've built, and disburse 
any assets. This was an extremely difficult agree- 
ment to create, and few communities ever think 
about this in advance. (But it's good planning.) 

One of your group's most significant set of 
agreements will be those embedded in the docu- 
ments of the legal entity through which you'll 
own property together. We'll look at those next. 


Once you move to your property your community will 
definitely need a pet policy, since pets, especially 
dogs, create some of the thorniest conflicts faced by 
communities. In the early 1980s, for example, a group 
of city dwellers moved to the rural Midwest to begin 
their new spiritual community. While they had no 
agreements at all, (believing that spiritual folks like 
themselves didn't need any), they forgot that dogs no 
longer contained in yards naturally become that bane 
of communities — a hunting pack. Their now-liberated 
dogs exuberantly followed their instincts and killed a 
number of small mammals, including kittens and cats 
belonging to other members. The community erupted 
in gut-wrenching conflict. Some members were furi- 
ous over the loss of their pets and feared the dogs 
might kill other cats or even attack their children. The 
dog owners were furious and defensive, since their 
own beloved family dog couldn't be guilty — it was 
other members' dogs. It got so ugly that some fathers 
threatened to shoot the dogs on sight. Stunned by the 
uproar, the community finally decided they might 
need rules after all, and agreed that all community 
dogs would be fenced. 

Dog packs, dogs barking, dog droppings, dogs with 
fleas, dogs digging up gardens, and dogs scaring off 
wildlife are some of the issues that arise over man's 
best friend in community. Cats too, can be an issue in 
communities, as some experts estimate that one cat 
kills roughly 100 small animals and birds over the 
course of a year. And yet, sometimes communities 
want dogs to deter deer who eat gardens, or cats to 
eliminate the rodents that get into food supplies. So 
while Fido and Fluffy may indeed be welcome, they 
need to be managed. Some communities have agree- 
ments that dogs and cats must wear small neck bells 
to warn wildlife of their approach, or that dogs be 
fenced and leashed. 

Recognizing that pets could be important mem- 
bers of the family, Earthaven's founders allowed peo- 
ple to keep their dogs when they moved to the land 
(although no more than five or six total on the proper- 
ty), but not get new pets when their pets died. 
Abundant Dawn crafted a unique plan that regulates 
the number of dogs and cats per neighborhood, 
based on neighborhood population. (See "Pet Policy, 
Abundant Dawn." Appendix 2, pg. 235.) 

Chapter 8 

Making It Real: Establishing Your Legal Entity 


r O — I DON'T WANT US TO have any 
entities or form a corporation! 
Corporations and lawyers are what's wrong with 
this country!" So declared a cofounder of a start- 
up community I was once involved with. She was 
willing to create community agreements and 
policies, but not a legal corporation. While I 
knew our group needed a legal entity to own 
property together, I certainly saw her point. 
Corporations are entities which under the law are 
treated as if they had the rights of actual people, 
but allow the real people who run them to incur 
debts, violate the environment, or harm others 
with no consequence to them personally. And 
when most people think "corporation," they think 
big, multinational corporations. Armed with mil- 
lions of dollars and fleets of lawyers, large corpo- 
rations can deny, evade, and delay prosecution for 
environmental and other crimes for which an 
individual person would be swiftly thrown in jail. 
No wonder many of the people most interested 
in creating a more cooperative, alternative culture 
are averse to "corporations" and "legal entities." 

Yet form them we must, if we are to protect 
ourselves from potentially ruinous lawsuits, 
exorbitant taxes, or sudden responsibility for 
paying debts we didn't agree to. Legal entities are 
themselves neutral. (And only some legal entities 

are literally corporations.) It's when people use 
these structures to harm others and avoid 
responsibility that they become objectionable. 
We can use these structures to create a more sus- 
tainable, cooperative way of life and, by demon- 
stration, influence our culture for the better. 

Why You Need a Legal Entity — Before 
Buying Your Property 

Why does your community need to form a legal 
entity? First, you'll need one to purchase your 
property, and to own it together over the years. 
(Technically you can purchase property as a 
group with no legal entity, but your default choic- 
es — Tenancy in Common and Joint Tenancy — 
are not recommended. See Chapter 15.) Second, 
you'll need a legal entity (which could be a sepa- 
rate one) to own and manage any community- 
owned businesses or to manage any non-profit 
activities — especially if you want to receive tax- 
deductible donations for those activities. 

Consider the consequences if you don't have 
a legal entity. Serious, potentially community- 
killing conflicts can arise regarding: 

• property rights and responsibilities of 

• vulnerability to creditors and lawsuits 



with regard to members' personal assets 

• financial compensation for departing 

• issues about who-all holds title to proper- 
ty and what happens if the group dis- 
bands and sells its assets 

Not to mention that without choosing a par- 
ticular entity you might end up paying exorbi- 
tant, unnecessary taxes. Not having a legal entity 
for your community is definitely a structural- 
conflict time bomb that could someday blow 
your group apart. 


1 . Having a legal entity will make the process of buying 
land easier. A seller or lending institution will take a 
legal entity with tens of thousands in the bank and a 
brief credit history more seriously than a collection of 
individuals trying to buy property together. 

2. Any agreements the group makes as part of the doc- 
uments of its legal entity (such as operating agree- 
ments or bylaws), will be compatible with state law, 
and thus legally enforceable. If a member violates 
one of these agreements, the other members will 
have the force of law behind them to induce the 
errant member to comply. 

3. Some legal entities are more compatible than others 
for the various ways you can own property together, 
such as: (a) everyone owns the property in common,- 

(b) each household own its own individual plot; or 

(c) each household owns its own individual plot and 
everyone together owns the rest of the property in 

4. Since the IRS and the state will tax your community 
according to whichever legal entity you have chosen, 
you might as well pick one that saves the most taxes 
relative to your community's particular circumstances. 

Thus the criteria for choosing your commu- 
nity's legal entity for property ownership usually 
depends on how well it can (1) protect your 
members from potential lawsuits or other finan- 
cial liability (2) prevent unnecessary taxation, 
(3) allow your community to hold title to land 
and structure land use and decision-making 
rights the way you like, (4) allow your communi- 
ty to accomplish its purpose, and (5) reflect your 
values. (See Chapter 15.) 

Some communities have different legal enti- 
ties for each kind of activity; others conduct var- 
ious activities under one legal structure. And 
since no legal entities are designed specifically for 
intentional communities (except 501(d) non- 
profits created for the Shakers) we must borrow 
from the various legal structures designed for 
operating businesses, pooling money for invest- 
ments, or holding land in common, and shape 
these structures to fit our community's particu- 
lar needs. 

"Wait a minute, our community won't be like 
that," you might say. "We're going to create some- 
thing beautiful and noble — not some business." 
Ah, but your financial dealings need to be con- 
ducted in a businesslike way. After all, you'll prob- 
ably be dealing with hundreds of thousands of 
dollars and you'll need clear, fair agreements. And, 
when you get right down to it, your community is 
a business, since it involves your putting this 
money together and agreeing how you'll spend it, 
how you'll raise more of it when needed, and how 
you'll deal fairly with any surplus or deficit. 

Using a Lawyer 

Yes, you should definitely have a real estate 
lawyer when you buy your property, and a lawyer 
with tax-law experience to help you set up the 
legal entity with which you'll own your property. 
Wait until you've learned as much as possible 


about your community's most likely legal 
options before you hire one, though. For one 
thing, you will be empowered, because informa- 
tion is power. You will also avoid paying a lawyer 
to spend several expensive sessions demystifying 
the realm of business legalities before even 
beginning to draw up a document. You will not 
feel like supplicants or amateurs. You won't be 
overwhelmed or intimidated. 

I also recommend hiring an experienced tax 
accountant or CPA. The point, after all, is to 
choose a legal entity which not only reflects your 
values, but also saves you the most tax money. 
Tax accountants and CPAs often know more 
about the nuances of these financial issues than 

Few lawyers or accountants know anything 
about intentional communities — another rea- 
son for learning as much as you can about possi- 
ble legal entities and picking several likely ones 
before you see the lawyer. At an hourly fee that 
could be several hundred dollars, you don't want 
to have to pay the lawyer or accountant to edu- 
cate him or her as to what an intentional com- 
munity is before naively asking for a suggested 
legal structure. You'll want to have written a 
clear, concise definition of your planned inten- 
tional community, along with several possible 
legal options for accomplishing, it before you 
walk in the door. 

Most lawyers don't know an extensive 
amount about the entire range of business and 
investment entities, but tend to specialize, and 
will likely steer you towards the entities they 
know most about. This can work to your disad- 
vantage, as your community can end up wearing 
the wrong legal structure like an ill-fitting shoe. 
Know which structures seem the best match 
before you seek legal help, then pick specialists in 
the structures you want. 

But before any of this, your whole communi- 
ty needs to be absolutely aligned and clear on 
what it is you're trying to do. 

"Remember," says Dave Henson, of Sowing 
Circle/OAEC, "your lawyer (or your CPA) 
works for you. Their advice on organizational 
questions is only as good as your community's 
clarity about your economic and organizational 

Once you and the lawyer (or you and your 
tax accountant) have picked a legal entity, you 
can save far more in lawyer's fees if you draft your 
start-up and operating documents yourselves, 
and have the lawyer or tax advisor review them 
for any specific provisions applicable to your 
state or province. Lay people can draft their own 
legal documents, with the right help. Nolo Press, 
a publisher of self-help legal books, offers step- 
by-step books and software on how to form your 
own partnerships, LLCs, corporations (for cer- 
tain states), and non-profit corporations in the 
US, and Self-Counsel Press does the same in 
Canada. Nolo Press, and Community 
Associations Institute (CAI), an organization 
educating and representing homeowners and 
condominium associations in the US, will both 
soon publish books on how to create your own 
community associations. 

Beware, however. At least one lawyer told me 
that doing it this way can cost a community 
group more money, but only if people change 
their minds several times and request multiple 
revisions, which increases the lawyer's billable 

If you're applying for non-profit tax status, 
you might want your lawyer or tax advisor to 
review your federal (and if applicable, state) tax 
exemption application form too. Arrange it so 
that your lawyer will answer your specific ques- 
tions and review — not rewrite — the forms 


you have prepared. (You can file your applica- 
tions with the state yourselves as well.) 

Why not just do everything yourselves and 
skip the legal fees? An experienced lawyer can 
spot potential problems and suggest solutions. 
He or she might be familiar with other, similar 
cases, and will make sure that any problems that 
befell one group won't happen to you. A good 
lawyer is well worth the money but if your group 
is as informed as possible at the outset, you'll 
need far less of his or her time. 

I suggest using Chapters 15 and 16 as an 
overview of the range of legal entities commonly 
used by intentional communities. Your group 
can then follow up with in-depth exploration of 
the legal entities that appeal most. You can do 
this with specific books and software, certain 
service organizations, and a consultation with a 
local tax accountant. (See author's website for 
resources.) Once you know more, choose two or 
more legal structure(s) for owning land that 
seem most likely for your group. Then choose a 
lawyer to help you make your final choice. To 
save more money, draft your documents your- 
selves and have your lawyer review them. 

How many people in your group should 
become familiar with legal issues? Can one per- 
son do it? Theoretically, yes. Dave Henson did 
the legal legwork for Sowing Circle/OAEC, as 
did Velma Kahn for Abundant Dawn. Yet Dave 
suggests that you don't leave it up to a single indi- 
vidual, but form a small committee. After doing 
the basic research, he says, the committee should 
present to the whole group the best options for 
the community's legal entities. Encourage exten- 
sive discussion. If there are still questions or con- 
cerns, let the committee go back and do more 
research and report back to the group. 

Whichever legal entity (or entities) you end 
up choosing, I recommend that all community 

members — not just those experienced in busi- 
ness and finance — be as informed as possible 
about these matters. Community-wide knowl- 
edge and understanding helps the group func- 
tion more intelligently and, more importantly, 
helps equalize power relationships within the 
community. It can prevent the common dilemma 
of power being concentrated in the 
business/finance intelligentsia, with all the 
attendant resentment and potential conflict that 
this can engender. 

Finding the Right Lawyer 

You'll want someone experienced, yet open- 
minded and flexible enough to understand what 
you're trying to do. Your lawyer must be willing 
and able to help you shape the legal entity, wher- 
ever possible, to fit your community's values and 
needs. The best choice would be a lawyer you 
personally know and trust, who is experienced in 
tax and real estate law, particularly as it relates to 
the legal structures you're exploring. This may be 
a tall order! The next best choice would be to find 
intentional communities in your area that are 
using one or more of the legal structures you're 
considering, and ask if they'd recommend the 
lawyer(s) they used. In your wider community, 
you could ask the same of business people who 
are using the legal structures you're considering. 

If you're using a local legal referral service, I 
recommend using only those run by the local bar 
association or a local non-profit association, 
rather than private, commercial referral services. 
And use only those that refer lawyers experi- 
enced in this kind of law who offer a free or dis- 
counted consultation as part of the referral pro- 
gram. Avoid those that simply refer lawyers on a 
strictly rotating basis. And what about low-cost 
law clinics? They usually bill for services at a 
higher rate than their initial consultation rate, 


their staff turnover is usually high, and their 
experience with the legal and tax issues of the 
entities you're exploring may be low. I suggest 
using a low-cost clinic only for general informa- 
tion, and use a more specialized lawyer for your 
actual legal work. 

When choosing a lawyer, it's best to contact 
several lawyers, interview them and get refer- 
ences, and after choosing one, create a written 
agreement about all fees and contracted services. 

Sometimes the right choice will be obvious. 
When she explored potential legal entities for 
Abundant Dawn, Velma Kahn spent several 
days in a law library researching case law relevant 
to her forming community's tax issues. She final- 
ly found a case that seemed to set the right prece- 
dent, and called several tax attorneys to feel them 
out. But none seemed to understand what she 
wanted, or get it that a non-lawyer like herself 
could have discovered something new. 

Except one. "What's the case number?" he 
asked, interested. "I'd like to look that up myself. 

"Ah," she said. "We've found our lawyer." 

As mentioned earlier, you should set up your 
legal entity before buying property. However, it 
will be easier to visualize and compare various 
kinds of legal entities if we use examples of com- 
munities you've become familiar with. So let's 
first meet those communities and learn how they 
bought, financed, and developed their land. 
(Later, we'll examine the legal entities they used 
to accomplish this.) 

For many founders this next step is the juiciest" 
part of starting a new community — the great 
land-buying adventure. 

^Chapter 9^ 

The Great Land-Buying Adventure 

IN 1995, WHEN THE SIX cofounders of 
Dancing Rabbit set out to find property for 
their ecovillage, they ran into the typical chal- 
lenges core groups often face at this point. (In 
this book, the words "property" and "land" are 
used interchangeably to mean the property your 
community will buy whether it's raw land, devel- 
oped or partially developed property, or a house 
or apartment building.) 

Dancing Rabbit had begun in 1993, when a 
dozen friends and environmental activists at 
Stanford University in California decided to cre- 
ate an ecovillage to learn about, demonstrate, and 
teach others what they called "radical environ- 
mental sustainability." They envisioned a small, 
locally self-reliant settlement of 500 to 1000, 
with subcommunities of smaller income-sharing 
groups, cohousing communities, and individual 

Many of the activists lived in a student hous- 
ing co-op at Stanford, and had already had a 
taste of shared living and consensus decision- 
making. Fueled by community living experience 
and environmental goals, they launched Dancing 
Rabbit as an incorporated association. Through 
monthly potlucks, a newsletter, and an e-mail 
bulletin board, they eventually became a group 

of nearly 20 at their monthly potlucks, and of 
about 100 on their e-mail network, primarily in 
northern California's university towns of Palo 
Alto, Berkeley, and Davis. By 1995, when many 
of the group had graduated from Stanford, six of 
them moved into a shared household in Berkeley 
and began researching what it takes to create an 

One of their group, Cecil Scheib, had gradu- 
ated earlier and had spent the last year or so trav- 
eling around the county to learn more about 
intentional communities, visit possible commu- 
nities to join, and gather information about nat- 
ural building and possible regions for their ecov- 
illage. Another Dancing Rabbit activist did the 
same, focusing mostly on desirable areas in 
northern California. 

The first hard realities the Dancing Rabbit 
founders encountered were county zoning regula- 
tions, building codes, and health department regu- 
lations that didn't allow sustainable developments. 

Legal Barriers to Sustainable 

They learned, for example, that just owning 
property doesn't mean you can do whatever you 
want with it. 



In many cities, towns and counties, zoning 
regulations regarding population density prohib- 
it building more than a certain number of 
dwellings per acre or clustering houses together 
and leaving much of the property open space, 
requiring instead that each house sits on its own 
same-sized lot. In the Southwest and parts of the 
Great Plains, where rain is scarce and the level of 
snow melt or underwater aquifers determines 
density, zoning regulations often permit no more 
than one house per 35 acres. Areas on the West 
Coast with no summer rainfall often allow no 
more than one house per five acres, while many 
townships in the Northeast allow no more than 
one house per 50 feet of road frontage. (The issue 
in the Northeast isn't water, but money. A town- 
ship's revenues come largely from property taxes, 
and budgets for municipal services are usually 
estimated as one household per lot. While allow- 
ing higher density on one lot wouldn't break the 
budget, if such density allowed many property 
owners to increase their populations, it could 
overwhelm the township's school, fire, police, or 
other services.) To increase population density 
on a property or to cluster houses usually 
requires petitioning the city council or county 
board of supervisors for a zoning variance or spe- 
cial use permit, which generally means holding a 
public hearing with potential neighbors. As 
many forming cohousing groups have learned, 
neighbors' opinions can make or break a project. 

Most towns and cities — and an increasing 
number of rural counties — have adopted the 
Uniform Building Code (or the Southern 
Building Code), or have their own local building 
code which mandates which construction meth- 
ods and materials can be used. This is an attempt 
to protect local governments from lawsuits 
brought by people injured because of faulty con- 
struction or to prevent homes from deteriorating 

too quickly, which could adversely affect banks 
and other local lending institutions with mort- 
gages on those homes. Thus, time-tested natural 
building techniques such as rubble-trench foun- 
dations or load-bearing strawbale or cob con- 
struction, straw-clay infill, earth-based floors, 
living roofs, or earth-plastered walls, are often 
illegal because few engineering specifications are 
available for the load-bearing capacities, durabil- 
ity, or moisture- repelling aspects of these tech- 
niques. Most counties that allow this kind of 
construction do so by default because they are 
sparsely populated; either they have little or no 
zoning, or they lack sufficient property tax rev- 
enue to pay inspectors to monitor or enforce 
building codes. And while increasing numbers of 
counties have been allowing natural building 
methods under "experimental" permits (usually 
requiring an engineer's sign-off, protecting local 
government from liability), not many counties 
allowed these when Dancing Rabbit's founders 
were conducting their search. As of this writing, 
it's still often difficult to impossible to get such 
buildings approved. 

Although it makes no logical sense, roof 
water catchments are disallowed in many regions 
in the West, since any rain that falls over a given 
locale legally"belongs" to the water table beneath 
it, and shouldn't be messed with by interfering 
humans, even though such rainfall may only run 
through people's sinks or vegetable gardens 
before joining the ground water below. 

In most counties, graywater recycling or con- 
structed wetlands are either illegal or, at the very 
least, illegal as the sole source of waste water 
drain-off. A county health department may 
allow these methods but still insist on a septic 
tank and leach field, regardless that these are 
considered unnecessary by graywater experts. 
Composting toilets are also rarely allowed by 


county health departments. Sometimes counties 
will allow only certain makes and models of 
composting toilet, such as those with electric 
fans, and often, only with the full additional 
back-up of a septic system and leach field — also 
considered superfluous by microbiologists famil- 
iar with the composting toilet process. 

The Dancing Rabbit folks also learned that 
counties with colleges or universities often per- 


I believe culture and laws will inevitably change. The 
more often that local and state elected officials, planners, 
and zoning and building officials are exposed to suc- 
cessful, sustainable intentional communities, the sooner 
they'll realize such communities help them meet their 
region's locally mandated environmental goals. I believe 
they will increasingly allow and even advocate special 
use permits, zoning variances, and more liberal zoning 
laws and building codes. In the meantime, we can edu- 
cate officials. We can meet with and get to know local 
elected officials, planners, building department and 
health officials. We can tell them what we know, show 
them studies, give them facts and anecdotes and infor- 
mation. We can solicit their advice, and make them part- 
ners in our visions for more cooperative sustainable 
places to live and work. 

Sociologist Paul Ray, who researched values in our 
population and co-authored the book Cultural Creatives, 
estimates that one-fourth of the US population, 50 million 
people, have alternative, sustainable values and support 
such practices. How many of these bankers, planners, 
and government officials might just be people like our- 
selves disguised in a suit? How many of them yearn to 
help create green, sustainable culture too, and simply 
need our citizen support to justify doing what they want 
to do anyway? 

mit no more than four or five unrelated adults 
per house — an attempt to protect homeowners' 
property values from dropping in case rowdy col- 
lege students move in next door. Even though 
most communities won't be like "animal house," 
rules like this can still greatly restrict a group's 
ability to form community in such counties. 
(Chapter 11 will examine ways communities 
have dealt with these challenges.) 

Shopping for Counties — Zoning 
Regulations, Building Codes, Sustainable 
Homesteads, and Jobs 

At first, Dancing Rabbit's founders were drawn 
to northern California's beautiful Mendocino 
and Humboldt counties. But no counties in 
California, except relatively unpopulated coun- 
ties on the eastern, desert side of the Sierra 
Nevadas, allowed the kind of population density 
they sought, not to mention clustered housing, 
strawbale buildings, composting toilets, and con- 
structed wetlands. This was true of most areas in 
the country, especially those near progressive 
university towns or urban areas where commu- 
nity members could most likely find jobs. The 
only exceptions seemed to be various rural areas 
with low populations in the Midwest and 
Southeast. But although two members worked 
as software designers and could essentially 
telecommute from anywhere in the county, not 
every community member could do that. How 
could they attract new members if they weren't 
in an area with locally available jobs? 

This was their second hard reality — the 
trade-off between living sustainably and the abil- 
ity to make a living. Rural counties in which sus- 
tainable building might be possible (because the 
population was so low they didn't have zoning 
limitations, traditional building codes, or certain 
health regulations), offered few potential jobs. 


And in more environmentally-aware areas, such 
as counties near university towns or cosmopoli- 
tan cities on either coast, where potential jobs 
were more available (and where you'd think sus- 
tainable building would be valued), the higher 
population put greater pressure on county offi- 
cials to adopt laws about density housing con- 
struction, and sanitation issues, making building 
sustainable homesteads there impossible. In fact, 
the more "progressive" the area, from Eugene to 
Boulder to Ann Arbor, the higher the popula- 
tion and the more likely local regulations made 
one-house/ one-lot, stick-frame construction 
with flush toilets and a leach field the only kind 
of development possible. 

For a while the group contemplated settling 
in the same area as Ecovillage at Ithaca, in New 
York state, a project of three planned cohousing 
communities with energy-efficient, passive solar 
homes and an affiliated Community Supported 
Agriculture farm. One of the first built-from- 
scratch ecovillage projects in the country, 
Ecovillage at Ithaca was a tempting model, and it 
was near a progressive university town with pos- 
sible jobs. But back in 1995, composting toilets 
and strawbale homes were out of the question in 
that location as well. 

The third hard reality the Dancing Rabbit 
founders ran into was trying to find a physically 
inspiring location with access to alternative cul- 
ture that wasn't exorbitantly expensive. Living in 
northern California, they'd become accustomed 
to seaside cliffs and crashing surf, redwood 
groves and snow-capped mountains. The farther 
north they drove, the more ruggedly wild and 
beautiful the land became. And every college 
town they stopped in offered familiar culture, 
from health food stores and vegan restaurants to 
coffeehouse bookstores. Yet the more beautiful 
the land and the closer its proximity to a desir- 

able town, the more expensive it was, not to 
mention the fact that the towns were already 
thronged with more over- educated folks than 
there were available jobs. 

By now the Midwest was sounding pretty 
good in terms of land affordability and zoning, 
and building code freedom. But Mennonite fam- 
ilies, and aging soy, corn, or cattle farmers didn't 
seem like they might offer a familiar and stimu- 
lating culture. And the Midwest certainly offered 
no seaside cliffs or mountain vistas. 

After a year of researching land costs and 
zoning regulations, and impatient to get started, 
the six Dancing Rabbit founders took off across 
the country to find rural counties with affordable 
land prices and few regulations. They looked at 
the area around Carbondale, Illinois, which 
offered a beautiful setting and an appealing urban 
area, but they found land there to be relatively 
expensive. They checked out the area around 
Knoxville, Tennessee, which was attractive in its 
own way but didn't draw them. They also visited 
a county in northeast Missouri with relatively 
low land prices, which was also the home of 
Sandhill Farm, a long-established intentional 
community whose members had offered to help. 

Camped at Sandhill Farm and wondering 
what to do next, the six founders had long, pas- 
sionate meetings voicing every opinion — from 
those who wanted mountains to those willing to 
take the flats; from those committed to modeling 
every aspect of sustainable living to those begin- 
ning to wonder whether such a project were even 

They realized it boiled down to three choices. 
They could, if they found a way to afford it, buy 
a small parcel of land in a beautiful, inspiring set- 
ting such as Northern California, and, as many 
communities had done before them, break all 
kinds of zoning, building, and health department 


regulations in order to create the sustainable 
systems they wanted, while remaining so small 
and low-key that no one would notice. 

Or they could work within the system, form- 
ing their community in a progressive area like 
Ithaca, New York, which was regulated by stan- 
dard zoning and other regulations, and work 
over the years to change those regulations by 
persistently trying to educate local officials. 

Third, they could form a community in a 
place so unpopulated that zoning and building 
codes hadn't arrived yet, and build exactly the 
kind of model demonstration site they had in 
mind; to live just as they wanted, somehow find- 
ing enough local jobs to get by. (They also won- 
dered, if they chose this option, how rural to be. 
If they were too far off the beaten path would 
people want to join them? Would they be too far 
away for anyone to even visit them?) Burning 
with a desire to "push the envelope" of environ- 
mental activism, and unwilling to either compro- 
mise their principles or break laws and remain 
too safely invisible to accomplish their mission, 
and realizing that they were willing to live deep 
in the country, they chose the third option. They 
planted themselves right in the heart of the 

The Proactive Land Search 

The Rabbits rented a double-wide mobile home 
near Sandhill Farm. Two members continued 
telecommuting to Silicon Valley, and two got 
part-time clerical jobs at the Fellowship for 
Intentional Community's headquarters at 
Sandhill Farm. 

Continuing the meetings they'd begun in 
Berkeley, they drafted documents and decided 
policies, and kept in touch with the wider group 
of Dancing Rabbit members via e-mail and their 
website. They created a 501(c)3 non-profit 

research and educational organization for 
Dancing Rabbit. To own the land as a 
Community Land Trust, they created a 501(c)2 
title-holding non-profit, with themselves com- 
prising one third of the Trustees and the other 
two-thirds drawn from Dancing Rabbit mem- 
bers elsewhere. They created a lease document 
for land-based residents. 

But finding land was their highest priority. 
They got a plat map from the county, copied 
down the owners of almost every farm parcel 
within a three-mile radius of Sandhill, and 
looked up their telephone numbers in the phone 
book. They called elderly farmers, farmers' wid- 
ows, and retired cattlemen, asking if they knew 
of any land for sale, and once into the conversa- 
tion, finding out if the landowners might be will- 
ing to sell a portion of their own property. 

After six months of calling and driving 
around to look, they ended up with several 
options. The most promising was a 280-acre par- 
cel of tall-grass prairie with a meandering stream 
and five ponds. The stream and its branches were 
lower in elevation than the fields, and the sloping 
banks were dotted with oaks, black walnut, hick- 
ory, and maple. The property also had a short 
dirt road, a one-story barn with two open sides, 
a maintenance shed, and a few corrugated metal 
grain silos. Of the property's 280 acres, 200 had 
been soybean fields, and were part of the 
Department of Agriculture's Conservation 
Reserve Program (CRP). The CRP program 
paid property owners (in this case) $60 an acre 
not to farm certain acres so the land could recov- 
er from a hundred years of topsoil erosion. The 
landowner was absentee, and the asking price 
was $190,000. The group could establish gar- 
dens, build passive solar homes, and grow grain 
in some of the fields not in the CRP program, 
and slowly restore the prairie ecology of the rest. 


They decided to go for it. This would be the 
site of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. The only 
remaining hurdle was to finance it. 

Friendly Loans from Friends and Family 

They had the land appraised for $500 an acre, so 
they made an offer of $140,000 to the absentee 
owner. He countered, and they negotiated for 
awhile. Income from the CRP program had arti- 
ficially inflated the price; however, payments on 
200 acres represented a potential annual income 
of $12,000 a year. Spread out over the next 
decade, this income would make the price more 
like $350 an acre — considerably less than the 
appraised value. So, they decided to offer $678 
an acre ($190,000), and the owner accepted. 

With two members' high-paying jobs in the 
computer industry, the group could get a bank 
loan to buy the property, but only for $150,000. 
They wanted lower interest rates and friendlier 
terms than a bank could offer, to protect them- 
selves from repossession in the event of cash- 
flow problems. They also wanted to raise more 
money than the $190,000 purchase price, so 
they'd have the funds to begin developing roads, 
utilities, and buildings. 

The Rabbits got the first of their three 
low-interest private mortgages from a long- 
time member in California — $90,000, to be 
repaid over 15 years at 5 percent interest, with 
no payments for the first three years. The sec- 
ond mortgage was $50,000 from one founder's 
parents, also to be repaid over 15 years at 5 
percent interest. Their third mortgage was 
$50,000 for 10 years from the Federation of 
Egalitarian Communities' (FEC) health insur- 
ance fund, at 8.5 percent interest. (When the 
group had first arrived in Missouri they 
formed Skyhouse, an income-sharing sub- 
community of Dancing Rabbit, which joined 

FEC.) These loans totaled $190,000. Their 
monthly mortgage payments would be $1,017 
a month for the first three years, and $1,730 a 
month thereafter. 

For their land development fund, they com- 
bined Dancing Rabbit's treasury, which had 
accumulated $2,000 in members' dues, and a 
founder's no-interest, 15-year loan of $33,000, 
to be paid back only after the first three loans 
were paid off. Thus, the Dancing Rabbit 
founders raised $225,000; enough to pay 
$190,000 cash for the land and establish a 
$35,000 development fund to begin building 
infrastructure. They bought the land through 
their 50 1(c) 2 title-holding non-profit, and 
placed the property in the Dancing Rabbit 
Community Land Trust. 

They didn't want their primary loans to be 
first, second, and third mortgages, but wanted 
their lenders to be repaid concurrently, with pro- 
rated amounts already determined in case it ever 
became necessary to sell the property to pay back 
the loans. So they placed three simultaneous 
liens on the deed, with their $90,000 lender 
owed 9/19ths of the proceeds of any future sale 
and their two $50,000 lenders owed 5/19ths 
each. The member who made the $33,000 loan 
didn't have any percentage of pay-back recorded 
on the deed. (Although the property was in a 
Community Land Trust, it wasn't paid for yet. 
The trustees of a land trust property with an 
encumbered title like this can still sell the prop- 
erty to pay off the debt, if necessary.) 

The six founders rented a mobile home 
across the road from their new property, and 
because it had a kitchen and bathroom, desig- 
nated it the temporary community building. 
Their first tasks were to create a campground, a 
composting toilet, and outdoor showers, and 
turn their two-sided barn into an outdoor 


kitchen. They invited other Dancing Rabbit 
members, friends, and supporters to visit and 
help them start their organic garden and build 
their first strawbale cabins. 

The Rabbits' experience illustrates many 
issues community founders must deal with when 
they look for and finance land. Most groups who 
want sustainable development must make the 
same kinds of difficult trade-offs when choosing 
their location. They often also learn to approach 
property owners directly including owners of 
land not currently for sale. And, with the excep- 
tion of cohousing communities, most choose not 
to get loans from banks or other mainstream 
lending sources, but seek them instead from 
family, friends, or organizations aligned with 
their values. 

Onerous Owner-financing (Better than 
None at All) 

In 1990 in Asheville, North Carolina, people 
began meeting to discuss their common vision of 
a sustainable ecovillage and begin their land 
search. To create as self-reliant a village as possi- 
ble, they assumed they'd need at least 150 resi- 
dents to provide the range of skills and services 
required to feed and house themselves and create 
an active village economy and culture. These 
goals determined their site criteria — at least 100 
acres within 45 minutes of Asheville, with a 
diverse landscape, abundant water (originating in 
its own watershed), areas suitable for agriculture, 
and enough south-facing slopes for at least 40 to 
60 home sites and other community buildings. 
Ideally, the property would be partially or mostly 


Loan Source Amount Terms Percent of Lien on the Deed 

Friend & Supporter 


15 years to pay; 

5% interest; no payments 

for the first three years 


A founder's Parents 


15 years, 5% interest 




10 years, 8.5 % interest 


D.R. Treasury 


Another founder 


15 years,- no interest- 
to be paid back after first 
three loans are paid off 




cleared land with buildings and utilities, and 

Over the next four years the groups land- 


It's not at all uncommon for a formins community to 
lose members just as it's about to buy land. 

Sometimes the exodus occurs because it's just not 
the right piece of property for some, or the right loca- 
tion. One of the most enthusiastic members of 
Dancing Rabbit's original founding group, for exam- 
ple, had her heart set on forming an ecovillage in 
California. Try though she might to get used to the 
Midwest, she found she couldn't bear to live in such 
a place: a flat expanse, few trees, and neighbors who 
were pleasant enough but mostly focused on rural 
farming matters. She tried several times to make it 
work, and eventually realized that Dancing Rabbit 
might be her tribe, although their new home wasn't 
hers. While she decided not to move to Missouri, she 
will always have a second home there, and like many 
people in the Dancing Rabbit network, has found 
other ways to contribute to and enjoy the communi- 
ty's progress. Another founding member with many of 
the same concerns traveled back and forth between 
California and Missouri for several years, trying to rec- 
oncile the vision and values and people she loved 
with a location that didn't draw her. The pull of love 
and friendship eventually won, and now, committed 
to life at Dancing Rabbit, she is one of the many pio- 
neers helping it grow and thrive. 

The stress of trying to place an option on, investi- 
gate, and finance expensive property can also force 
interpersonal conflict to a head. Sowing Circle/OAEC 
had begun as about a dozen people, but when it was 
time to put up money, the group dropped to seven. 
And just as they were about to nail down the last 
details of buying the former Farallones Institute prop- 

search team visited hundreds of properties, 
shooting video footage of the most promising 
ones and bringing the whole group out to see 

erty, two couples in the group broke up, and one per- 
son in each partnership left the group, and then at the 
last minute another couple joined them. Besides 
being devastating personally, this kind of last-minute 
turnover can be nerve-wracking financially — wrench- 
ing people back and forth between different amounts 
of money they must contribute towards the down 

In North Carolina a group met regularly to plan the 
community that eventually became Earthaven. After 
searching for property for four years, when some 
members wanted to buy a particular property and 
others did not, some persistent personality conflicts 
and an essential difference in vision were forced to 
the surface. The conflict was so strong that it broke up 
the group. Earthaven came into being because four 
original members, along with some new people inter- 
ested in forming a community created a hybrid group 
to purchase the property. 

Sometimes people leave because the reality of 
buying land makes the prospect of living in communi- 
ty all too real. They realize they can't afford it after all, 
or it may not be the right time in their lives to spend 
that much money, or they discover they're not really 
ready to change their lives that much. 

If this happens in your group, it doesn't mean the 
end of your community dream. You may need to buy 
the property as a smaller group,- however, others may 
come along to join you before the purchase. And cer- 
tainly people will join you sferthe purchase — there's 
nothing like a group with a beautiful vision and an 
appealing property to inspire new people to leap into 
the adventure with you. 


them. They eventually narrowed their search to 
an area southeast of Asheville, near the town of 
Black Mountain. As mentioned earlier, one of 
the founders, Valerie Naiman, got real estate 
sales and broker's licenses in order to learn more 
about real financing and local land values, and 
took a job with a real estate agent in Black 
Mountain so the group would know about prop- 
erties as soon as they came on the market. 

In 1993, they found a mountain property of 
three converging stream valleys 45 minutes 
southeast of Asheville. It had abundant water — 
two major streams, many smaller streams, and 16 
springs — and a quarter of the land was arable. 
Its slopes and bottom lands were covered in a rel- 
atively new forest of pines, locust, poplar, oak, 
maple, beech, and hemlock. A gravel road and an 
ancient hunting cabin were its only human-made 
features. The owners believed it was 368 acres, 
although they hadn't surveyed it and weren't cer- 
tain of this. They were asking $1,200 an acre, or 
$441,600 for 368 acres, with ten percent down. 
They were willing to owner-finance. 

The group originally rejected the property 
because its uncleared forest represented consid- 
erably more work to develop than the mostly- 
cleared land they'd envisioned. It also had poor 
soil, depleted during decades of unsustainable 
farming through the 1930s. While the land 
search continued, however, a few members of the 
group returned to reconsider the site. The prop- 
erty seemed to call them back. 

"The land was attractive for a number of rea- 
sons," recalls cofounder Chuck Marsh. It shared 
common boundaries with two older intentional 
communities, Full Circle and Rosy Branch, 
whose members were supportive of the project. 
While the entrance to the property was in the 
more populated county that surrounded 
Asheville, thus offering good telephone, police, 

and ambulance service and well-funded schools, 
most of the property lay within a considerably 
more rural county. "That meant we would be 
subject to less stringent building and develop- 
ment ordinances," recalls Chuck, "and the tax 
rates would be lower than they would be if we 
were 100 yards farther north. Our development 
costs would be significantly lower and we'd have 
greater flexibility in meeting our ecological 

As happens with many forming community 
groups at this point, the pressure to make a deci- 
sion about a particular property, and the need for 
members to come up with significant funds to 
buy it, forced the issue on long-standing person- 
ality conflicts and basic differences in communi- 
ty vision. Some wanted to live in a simple com- 
munity with friends; others wanted to create a 
model ecovillage with an educational mission. 
The group couldn't resolve these differences, and 
over the next year fell apart in conflict and disap- 

Valerie broke the impasse by making an offer 
on the land herself in September 1994, offering 
$100,000 down, with a clause in the contract 
allowing her to exit the deal if she couldn't get 
other people to join in the purchase. 

She invited the group members who favored 
the ecovillage vision, and many new people inter- 
ested in community, to a "founders meeting" at 
her house. She handed pledge cards to each 
guest, explaining that each person or household 
who pledged $10,000 towards the down payment 
would get a roughly quarter-acre home or busi- 
ness site in the new community. Those pledging 
first would get first choice of sites, those pledging 
second would get second choice, and so on. 

That afternoon 11 people, four from the first 
group and the rest new people, made seven 
$10,000 pledges for home sites and one for a 


business site. A twelfth person pledged $20,000 
for both a home and business site, and they had 
their $100,000. 

Now that they'd agreed on property and 
financing, the heat was on. The hybrid group of 
12 cofounders settled on the name "Earthaven" 
and began meeting weekly. Between September 
and December of 1994, they drafted agreements, 
membership procedures, and bylaws, and incor- 
porated as a non-profit Homeowners 
Association. Even though they had the money 
for the down payment they continued raising 
money. They increased the site fees to $11,000 
and let it be known that site fees would be 
$12,000 the following year. Through word of 
mouth, they found friends and other interested 
people to pledge for additional sites. Some con- 
tributed the full amount; others put half and 
agreed to pay $150 a month at 10 percent inter- 
est. By December 11, more people had joined 
them, and the 21 cofounders had raised a total of 

They decided to keep $22,000 aside for ini- 
tial development costs, and so offered the owners 
$128,000 down, with seven payments towards 
the unpaid balance over the next seven years, at 
8.75 percent interest. The owners stipulated that 

they would release the property to the group 
incrementally, upon payment of each of the 
annual payments. The down payment would 
guarantee Earthaven ownership of 80 acres, but 
only 40 of them would be available for the group 
to develop. 

But the total number of acres wasn't clear. If 
the Earthaven group was willing to pay for a post- 
purchase survey to determine the actual amount 
of acreage, the owners were willing to reduce the 
price commensurably, but no more than 40 acres 
less than the original asking price (or $48,000), 
no matter what the survey might show. Thus, if 
the Earthaven founders wanted this property, 
they had to agree to buy at least 328 acres, no 
matter how much smaller the property might 
actually be. (The later survey showed it was nine 
acres smaller — or 320 acres — so at $1,200 an 
acre they ended up paying an extra $10,800 as the 
cost of doing business.) The owners also stipulat- 
ed that, after the down payment, Earthaven 
couldn't pay off much more than $100,000 a year 
without incurring a ten percent penalty. 

These weren't great terms, but at least the 
sale was owner-financed. Earthaven closed the 
deal in December of 1994. The property, or part 
of it anyway, was theirs. 


Actual No. Acres & 

Amount of 

Final Purchase Price 

Total Money Raised 

Down Payment & Terms 

Development Fund 

320 acres, $396,577 


$128,000 down; 7 annual 

payments of principal & 

interest, at 8.75%. 

Releasins 40 acres with 

each payment 



Do-it-Yourself Refinancing with a "Shoe 
Box Bank" 

The founders knew they would need to raise 
more than $72,000 the next year for the first 
annual principal and interest payment, so they 
decided to refinance as soon as possible. As we've 
seen earlier, Valerie learned about small-scale, 
self-financing methods from the E. F. 
Schumacher Society in Massachusetts and pro- 
posed that the group create a private "shoe box 
bank." This they did, calling it the EarthShares 
fund, and asking people to transfer money from 
CDs and savings accounts into it, and encourag- 
ing those with other assets to turn them into 
cash to invest in the project. They offered 8.5 
percent interest, a slightly higher rate than many 
people were receiving in their banks and CDs at 
the time. Contributors would be paid back in 
annual payments over the next seven years with 
money from the membership fees and site lease 
fees of incoming Earthaven members. The first 
year, 1995, would be an interest-only payment to 
the EarthShares fund. 

As a "shoe box bank," the EarthShares fund 
was a seven-year private loan agreement between 
community members and their own Earthaven 
Association, allowing them to raise enough 
money to pay off the sellers as soon as possible 
and gain control of their own property, so they 
could develop more than just the first 40 acres. 

By December 1995, when the first principal 
and interest payment would have been due, 18 
Earthaven people had transferred money to the 
EarthShares fund, raising a total of $232,000. 

They used a promissory note as the legal 
instrument for the EarthShares fund, with the 
signatures of all 18 investors as the Lenders, and 
the Earthaven Association as the Borrower. The 
EarthShares fund then placed a lien on the prop- 
erty deed. This meant that no future creditors 

could force the sale of the property to collect any 
outstanding debts unless the EarthShares 
investors themselves, as the first creditors in line, 
agreed to it, which of course they wouldn't. This 
created a layer of legal protection around the 

The $232,000 in the EarthShares fund was 
more than enough to pay off the rest of the prin- 
cipal and most of the interest for 1995 still owed 
to the owner-financers. But because of the 
owner-financers' stipulated ten percent penalty 
for early pay-off, Earthaven paid them off over 
four years instead. 

By 1997, four Earthaven members invested 
$61,000 more in the EarthShares fund, and with 
these funds, as well as with income from site 
lease fees from new members, they were able to 
pay off the owner-financers that year. Because of 
acreage adjustments from the survey, they ended 
up paying $396,577 to the former owners, along 
with $28,423 in interest, making their total pur- 
chase price $425,000. Of this, $128,000 came 
from funds raised during their founder's meeting 
and in the last months of 1994, $24,000 came 
from membership and site-holding fees, and 
$293,000 from the EarthShares fund. 

Establishing the EarthShares fund had ben- 
efited the community in three ways. First, com- 
munity members themselves became the 
financers of the project. If for some reason they 
couldn't make an annual payment one year, there 
would be no danger of foreclosure. Second, they 
reduced their annual interest from 8.75 to 8.5 
percent, saving several thousand dollars. And 
third, once they had paid off the former owners, 
Earthaven members owned the property out- 
right and were free to develop all of it. 

Although their land was now financially 
secure, the community was not out of debt, since 
the Earthaven Association still owed principal 


and interest payments to EarthShares investors. 
Given the principal and interest payments 
required to pay off the EarthShares fund, they 
will end up paying several hundred thousand 
dollars more than $425,000 for their property. 

As we've seen with Lost Valley and Dancing 
Rabbit, it's not uncommon for some founders to 
have considerably more money or more access to 
money than others. Sometimes it's only this fact 
that allows the group to buy property at all. 

When One Person Buys the Property 

In early 1998, social justice activist Hank 
Obermeyer began looking for likely properties in 
Oakland, California to create an intentional 
community focusing on activism and the arts, 
with some kind of limited equity for owners. He 
wanted property with at least two houses and 
several housing units in a tree-lined neighbor- 
hood not far from public transportation, prefer- 
ably in north Oakland. 

In November of that year, he and some 
friends found three two-story houses with eight 

units on a double lot in a neighborhood in north 
Oakland with these features. The asking price 
was $505,000, a fairly reasonable price for the 
Bay Area at the time. 

Hank's offer of $485,000 was accepted, but 
only if he paid it in 30 days. Hank had to liqui- 
date many other investments to raise the 
$485,000 plus an estimated $100,000 for repairs 
and renovations. But 30 days wasn't enough time 
to accomplish this, so he got short-term person- 
al loans, which he paid off over eight months. 

Hank and the first people who planned to 
live long-term in the community, now named 
Mariposa Grove, began what ultimately became 
a three-year renovation project. They repaired a 
sagging foundation and replaced wood that had 
dry rot and termites in one house, and redid 
much of the wiring and plumbing in another. 
They tore out walls and rearranged living spaces, 
eventually creating six two- and three-bedroom 
apartments and a large apartment to serve as a 
community common area, containing a kitchen, 
dining area, large living room, and guest room. 










Raised in 

Invested in 


Payments to 

Payments to 


1994 for 





Owed to 


for payments 







— 0— 



— 0— 



— 0— 







— 0— 

— 0— 





1997 (May) 

— 0— 






1997 (June) 

— 0— 

— 0— 



— 0— 


1997 (July) 

— 0— 

— 0— 



— 0— 

— 0— 








Other planned common areas include office 
space, laundry facilities, and possibly art and 
music rooms. They dug up a concrete parking lot 
and planted a vegetable garden and fruit trees. 

The property is in a mixed African- 
American and white neighborhood, and from 
the beginning Hank wanted Mariposa Grove to 
offer affordable housing and be socio-economi- 
cally and racially diverse. So as soon as apart- 
ments were ready he rented the first one to a 
friend, and they chose the third tenant, and the 
three chose the fourth tenant, and so on, until 
they had eight members (while expecting 12-13 
eventually). They do in fact represent a diverse 
group — people who attended Ivy League 
schools, people who never went to college, and 
people who came from working-class back- 
grounds. Most are white; one is African- 

At first, when the project had just a few 
short-term members, it was really a one-man 
show. But Hank didn't make any important 
decisions or begin any major construction proj- 
ects until other long-term members became 
involved. Although everyone made consensus 
decisions together about long-range matters, 
Hank carried out their decisions, mostly 
because he knew how, and because ultimately he 
was financially and legally responsible for every- 
thing. But the increasing load of responsibilities 
grew so heavy that he finally burned out in 
exhaustion. He told the group he couldn't con- 
tinue doing this work by himself. Others would 
have to share the load. At that point leadership 
shifted from Hank to the group as a whole, and 
everyone began serving on one or more commit- 
tees — finance, construction, governance, new- 
member outreach, and so on — sharing more 
equitably the responsibilities of establishing a 
new community. 

"A crisis like this is pretty common in new com- 
munities," he says, "when leadership shifts from the 
founder (or founders) to everyone involved." 

As of this writing, Mariposa Grove is in the 
process of researching the legal and financial 
requirements to become a limited equity housing 
co-op under California law. If they choose this 
form of limited equity housing, it means Hank 
will sell the property to the housing co-op for 
approximately $750,000 (the $485,000 purchase 
price plus what will be more than $250,000 in 
renovation costs, plus six percent interest). While 
he could sell for twice that amount since the mar- 
ket value has more than doubled since he bought 
the property, it would no longer be affordable 
housing. By the time the group buys the proper- 
ty, the accrued six percent interest will compen- 
sate Hank to some degree for his efforts and his 
business risk, yet keep the units affordable. 

In a limited equity housing co-op, each mem- 
ber owns shares in the co-op and is a member of 
its board of directors, and has the right to live 
there through a proprietary lease with the co-op. 
If Mariposa Grove chooses this form of owner- 
ship, each shareholder, including Hank, will pay 
a down payment and monthly occupancy fees to 
the co-op, which will pay the mortgage payment 
to the bank, and any maintenance or other costs. 

In Chapter 1 we saw how Lost Valley's 
founders acquired fully developed "turn-key" 
property for intentional community. Here's how 
Sowing Circle/OAEC faced similar challenges. 

Acquiring Fully Developed "Turn-Key" 
Property — Confidence, Persistence, 
and Negotiation 

In the mid-1980s, a group of around 25 social jus- 
tice and environmental activists and artists in the 
San Francisco Bay Area met regularly to celebrate 


Summer Solstice and New Year's together in 
beautiful rural settings. Many of them had lived 
together at various times in urban group house- 
holds. They enjoyed these experiments in com- 
munity so much that in the late 1980s and early 
90s a dozen of them began to periodically look for 
property near the Bay Area to form an intention- 
al community and activist and arts center. 

By 1991, about a dozen members of the 
group got more serious about creating what 
would eventually become Sowing Circle com- 
munity and Occidental Arts and Ecology 
Center. They acquired the General Plans and 
county maps for several counties around San 
Francisco that interested them. Like Dancing 

Rabbit's founders, they used the maps and coun- 
ty tax records to contact the owners of likely 
properties, even if the properties weren't for sale. 
They narrowed their search down to two coun- 
ties and mailed a form letter to every real estate 
agent in those counties. 

They chose a couple of real estate agents in 
these two counties from among the responses to 
their letters, and visited more properties. 

In 1993 they learned that an 80-acre parcel 
fitting their description had just come on the 
market near the town of Occidental in Sonoma 
County. The site of the former Farallones 
Institute, it had been a living/teaching center 
whose staff had researched and taught classes on 


Dear Realtor, 

Greetinss. We are a group of couples and individuals 
looking for rural or semi-rural land, with or without 
structures, in Sonoma and southern Mendocino 

We're looking for property large enough for and 
zoned for multiple homes, barns, and other outbuild- 
ings. We would ideally like land that could accommo- 
date our building a small retreat center there. 

What we're looking for: 

• Between 20 and 300 acres 

• Zoned to build four or more homes on the 
property, plus outbuildings 

• Within one to three hours' drive of San 

• Less than $500,000 (we'd consider paying 
more if the property were already a well- 
developed retreat center with homes). 


• Old church camps, summer camps, rural 
schools, or retreat centers zoned for multiple 
dwellings and multiple use 

• A large parcel of undeveloped land or several 
contiguous parcels zoned for multiple 
dwellings (i.e., sub-dividable, perc-tested for 
several homes, etc. ) 

• An already-developed property with many 
older structures needing a lot of work. 


• Year-round river or creek and/or a pond 

• Mix of forested land and open areas,- hilltops 
and valley or canyon 

• At least two acres of arable land 

• Privacy. 



lotai Money 

Down payment 

tgen nnn 

A J. £ 

Amount or 

Memoers ana uieir 


ana lerms 

rurcnase trice 



Amount of 
First Mortgage 


Plan #1: 10 people 


$50,000 down; 

$800,000 Owner- 


each contribute 

6.7% interest; inter- 

Financed First 


est-only payments 
for first 5 years 


Plan #2: 

7 people raise 


$50,000 down,- 

$800,000 Owner- 



6.7% interest; inter- 
est-only payments 

Financed First 


for first 5 years 

Plan #3: 

• 7 people each 

?> 1 5u,(JUU down,- 

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5p/U(J,L)l)(J Uwner- 


contribute $20,0000 

6.7% interest; inter- 

Financed First 

• $40,000 2nd 

est-only payments 


Mortgage (5% inter- 

for first 5 years 

est); interest only 

payments 1 st five 


• $25,000 3rd 

Mortgage (same 


passive solar design, appropriate technology, and 
organic gardening. When the Farallones 
Institute folded in 1990, a private environmental 
foundation acquired the property and used its 
organic gardens for a seed-saving project to pre- 
serve heirloom vegetables, fruits, and flowers. 

When the group drove out to Occidental to 
take a look, they found rolling hills, meadows, 
sweeping views, stands of oak, redwood groves, a 
swimming pond, and, on the north and south 

sides of a small hill, two of the most beautiful 
and prolific gardens they'd ever seen. Around the 
top of the hill were 16 redwood buildings, 
including a kitchen/dining building, an office 
complex, a workshop, classroom space, five small 
vault-roofed passive solar cabins, and another 
half-dozen intern cabins. The property had a use 
permit for up to 26 residents full time, with up to 
50 people allowed to live on the site for work- 
shops 60 days of the year. The foundation that 


owned the land was not necessarily looking for 
the highest bidder, but for a buyer with a similar 
vision and values to theirs. They were asking a 
million-plus for the property and were willing to 
owner-finance for five years. They offered a 
$200,000 discount for a buyer who would con- 
tinue their seed-saving work. 

It was a community founder's dream. 

It was clearly the ideal property for this 
group, and they saw themselves as ideal stewards 
for the property no matter that it had a million- 
dollar price tag and none of them had much in 
the way of financial assets. 

But now the pressure was on. The group 
began meeting 15 hours a week, working on 
three major tasks. One was organizing their 
future community life — who would do which 
tasks, who would live where, and so on. Another 
was public relations — countering the potential 
hostility of local residents towards whomever 
might buy the old Farallones Institute property. 
They knew county residents would want to 
know who it was that presumed to buy this very 
special property, and what they intended to do 
with it. So representatives of the group met with 
neighbors and other county residents and 
explained, in person and through local reporters, 
how they intended to continue the seed-saving 
project and initiate similar projects to those of 
the Farallones Institute, through workshops and 
classes in organic gardening, permaculture 
design, and other aspects of sustainable living. 
The third major project was the legal and finan- 
cial aspects of acquiring the property. 

They realized that this third project would 
take full-time work. So Dave Henson, a member 
of the group with extensive experience fundrais- 
ing for non-profits, and who had gone to law 
school (although he was not a lawyer), quit his 
environmental activist job to devote himself full- 

time for eight months to the project. The group 
thanked him by giving him the best cabin. (They 
considered pooling funds to pay him a salary if 
the land purchase were to take any longer than 
eight months.) 

The first task in acquiring the property was 
to find out if it was as ideal as it seemed, so 
Dave looked into the usual issues of property 
suitability: whether there was enough water 
and septic system capacity for the amount of 
peak use they envisioned; if the soil would perc- 
test well enough for any additional septic sys- 
tems; what potential hazards might be upwind 
or upstream of the property; how any future 
developments planned for the area might affect 
their use and enjoyment of the property; and 
the amount of repairs or renovations the build- 
ings might need. 

Most of these questions were answered to 
their satisfaction, but they discovered that 
almost all the roofs needed repair and that most 
of the septic systems and some of the founda- 
tions needed replacing. They figured out it 
would take approximately $150,000 to make 
these and other needed repairs, remodel and 
enlarge the cabins, and build new accommoda- 
tions for workshop participants and interns. 
Given the amount of work the property needed, 
they decided to offer $850,000 — a full 
$150,000 lower than the asking price of over a 
million, even after the first $200,000 was dis- 
counted for buyers who'd continue the seed-sav- 
ing project. 

If at First You Don't Succeed ... 

For the many months leading up to the pur- 
chase, a dozen group members attended meet- 
ings, but when the time came to choose to be in 
the community or out, only seven people 
stepped forward to commit to the purchase. 


They sought three more cofounders, thinking 
that if ten members could raise $20,000 each, 
they'd have $200,000. With this amount they'd 
pay $50,000 down, request an owner-financed 
mortgage of $800,000, and use $150,000 for 
development. But they didn't find three more 
people with $20,000. 

They next decided that the seven of them 
would raise $100,000, pay $50,000 down, 
request an owner-financed mortgage of 
$800,000, and use just $50,000 for develop- 
ment, which would stretch out their planned 
renovations over a longer period. This was the 
offer they submitted in May 1994. They 
described how the intended Occidental Arts 
and Ecology Center was aligned with the foun- 
dation's own vision for the property's best use, 
and agreed to continue the heirloom seed proj- 
ect. A business plan outlined how they'd raise 
the down payment and make interest and prin- 
cipal payments. They proposed terms quite 
favorable to themselves — 6.7 percent interest 
(at a time when banks were charging 8 percent) 
and relatively small interest-only payments for 
the first five years — in exchange for signing a 
contract with the owner-financers that would 
bind the group to doing repairs and improve- 
ments to the buildings and infrastructure, 
thereby improving the value of the property 
over the first year of occupancy. They backed 
this up by describing how they would repair 
each building, a timetable for the improve- 
ments, and another business plan showing how 
much money they'd use for that purpose and 
where they'd get it. 

"This is an important point for forming 
communities to keep in mind," advises Dave. 
"Many owner-financers are reluctant to sell to 
groups who say they can meet the down pay- 
ment and mortgage payments, but whom might 

be so financially strapped in the future that 
they'd default on payments and the owner would 
have to repossess the property. If the property 
hadn't been properly maintained, the owner 
could get back property that might then be 
worth less what it had sold for because its build- 
ings were rundown or falling apart. But if poten- 
tial buyers can demonstrate that they will main- 
tain and even improve the property, and can doc- 
ument the source of their funds for doing so and 
how they will accomplish the upgrades, the 
landowner may not only be willing to sell to 
them, but also willing to reduce the down pay- 
ment, the interest rate, and/ or the amount of 
monthly payment. If a group with this arrange- 
ment defaulted and the original landowner 
repossessed and got the property back," Dave 
says, "it would be worth considerably more than 
when the owner first sold it, over and above any 
increase in land values." 

The foundation accepted their offer and 

Because they were too overwhelmed by 
financial stress at this point to establish a more 
complex legal entity to buy the property, they 
drew up a simple partnership, called the "Sowing 

They later learned that the foundation had 
received over 200 other offers, some of them 
offering more cash than they had. But their offer 
was most likely chosen, they believe, because their 
intended use was probably the most aligned with 
the foundation's goals for the property, and they 
had presented the most coherent financial model 
of how they'd pay for the property and what they 
would do with it. It also helped that Dave and 
others in this group had credibility and good rep- 
utations nationally as environmental activists. 

But at the 11th hour they had serious set- 
backs. Two of the couples broke up, and as a 


result, two members left the group, leaving just 
five people to raise the money. Fortunately a new 
couple joined a few weeks before closing, bring- 
ing their number back to seven. 

But that wasn't the worst. Several days before 
closing the sale, and after they'd all quit their jobs 
and given notices on their apartments, as they 
were all relaxing and celebrating at a friend's 
cabin in the country, they got a phone call. 

"The deal's off," the foundation director said, 
"unless you pay $150,000 down. We can't go with 
$50,000 down, and we can't offer you any extra 
time to raise it. We'll need it at closing, five days 
from now." The group was stunned. They later 
learned that the foundation's New York lawyers 
were horrified to learn that this million dollar 
property was about to go for just $50,000 down, 
and put pressure on the foundation director to 
somehow stop the sale. The group assumed the 
additional $100,000 down was intended to be a 
deal-breaker, a demand they couldn't possibly 
meet on such short notice so the foundation 
could get out of the sale. 

Half packed, no longer employed, and about 
to lose their homes to incoming tenants, the 
partners decided all they could do was try to 
raise the additional $100,000. They created large 
fold-out brochures with color-photocopied pho- 
tos of the property and descriptions of their 
agreements and goals. Some of them flew home 
to their parents, and, using the brochures to help 
explain what they hoped to do, asked to borrow 
enough money to come up with $20,000 each. 
Meanwhile, Dave and some of the others called 
several close friends and family members to ask 
for loans. In a few days they had each secured 
$20,000 for seven down payments totaling 
$140,000, and had arranged for two friendly 
loans: a $40,000 second mortgage and a $25,000 
third mortgage, each at 5 percent interest with 

interest-only payments for the first five years. 
This $65,000 in additional mortgages, plus the 
$140,000, gave the group $150,000 for the down 
payment and $55,000 in reserve for repairs, ren- 
ovations, and new construction. When one of 
the seven couldn't come up with the whole 
$20,000, the group dipped into the $55,000 
development fund to give her a temporary loan 
of $5,000. 

Five days after the phone call the founders 
were able to hand the director of the foundation 
a certified check for $150,000. The old 
Farallones Institute property was theirs. 

For the first eight months after their August 
1994 move-in, six of the partners worked day 
and night repairing roofs, upgrading utilities, 
renovating the cabins, and building two yurt 
dormitories and a new bathhouse. The seventh 
person, who had just begun a new job in the area, 
brought home enough pay to keep them in food 
and other necessities during the renovation. By 
March 1995 they'd completed enough to launch 
the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. (They 
had arranged to operate OAEC first through the 
non-profit Tides Foundation, planning to create 
their own 50 1(c) 3 non-profit two years later.) 
They created a series of programs, promoted 
them locally, and held their first OAEC work- 
shop that summer. 

As you can see, the challenges and benefits of 
buying a fully developed "turn- key" property are 
quite different to those of buying raw land. 
While the founders of communities like Sowing 
Circle/OAEC and Lost Valley must usually 
jump through more hoops to investigate and 
finance such properties than those who buy raw 
land, after about eight months of hard work 
both Lost Valley and Sowing Circle/OAEC had 
comfortable living quarters for members and 


offered their first workshops on sustainable liv- 
ing. Primitive facilities didn't stop either 
Dancing Rabbit or Earthaven from creating 
internship programs and offering similar work- 
shops soon after land-purchase, but it will be a 
long time before either has facilities like those of 
Lost Valley or Sowing Circle/OAEC. 

Lost Valley and Sowing Circle/OAEC can 
also show us what founders seeking turn-key 
properties can encounter. Both core groups found 
properties that had previously been used for 
almost identical non-profit purposes to their 
own. Both properties had not been lived in for 
two or three years, and both, especially Lost 
Valley's, required extensive repair and renovation. 

Both sets of founders acquired their proper- 
ty by making offers far lower than the asking 
price. Sowing Circle/OAEC's offer was helped 
by the fact that their intended use of the proper- 
ty was similar to the owner's wishes, and their 
documentation of how they'd raise the money to 
finance the purchase was so thorough. Lost 
Valley was helped enormously by the fact that 
one founder could afford to offer two $100,000 
land-purchase and development loans. 

In Chapter 10 we'll look at the step-by-step 
process of finding community property. 

^Chapter 1 0^ 

Finding the Right Property 

munities buy raw land, developed land with 
buildings and utilities, and fully developed 
"turn-key" properties. Each of these communi- 
ties found property with pretty much everything 
they wanted, perhaps with the exception of 
Earthaven, whose hybrid founders' group didn't 
choose the developed land with open space envi- 
sioned by the original founders. There's much we 
can learn from these and other groups about 
finding the right property — realistically deter- 
mining site criteria; how the land-search process 
works; and the importance of researching prop- 
erties ahead of time. 

Choosing Your Site Criteria 

One of the keys to getting what you want is to 
have clear, realistic expectations from the begin- 
ning about your chosen location and any limita- 
tions on property available there. Here are five 
basic questions to ask yourselves. 

1. Which region or city would your group like 
to live in, and why? 

2. How much land are you looking for? 

3. Do you want raw or developed land? 

4. How much do you want to pay for property? 
On development and construction? 

5. How much and what kind of financing is 
available for your land purchase? 

How Much Land Do You Want? 

The amount of land you're looking for will prob- 
ably depend on the purpose of your community, 
how many total members you plan to have, the 
population density allowed by local zoning regu- 
lations, and, in the West, the amount of available 

Of course, everything can change once you 
begin the land search. The amount of land or 
the cost of available properties you find might 
induce you to change your plans. Sowing 
Circle/OAEC originally planned to spend no 
more than $500,000, but paid nearly twice that 
because they found fully-developed property. 
An increase or decrease in the size and/or the 
cost of property could make you decide to 
increase or decrease your planned number of 
households. Many cohousing communities, for 
example, have increased their number of units 
by ten or more because they underestimated the 
cost of land (or the cost of development or con- 
struction), so to keep their homes affordable, 
they spread the cost over a larger number of 



Raw Land — Lower Initial Cost, Years of 

Dancing Rabbit and Earthaven bought essen- 
tially raw land, though each had one road and 
one or more outbuildings, and both faced the 
same set of advantages and disadvantages. 

Advantages of Buying Raw Land 

• Within the limits of local zoning regula- 
tions and building codes, with raw land 
you can design your site to express your 


Location is a critical factor for many reasons. For example, 
do zonins resulations there allow the kinds of activities 
you envision (farming, market gardening, light industry, 
animal husbandry?), or the degree of density you plan 
(apartment living, single-family dwellings on separate 
lots)? If not, how likely would it be, and what might it 
cost, to get a zoning variance? 

Unless you're bringing already successful community 
businesses to the land, or most or all of you will telecom- 
mute, does the area offer potential jobs? What are wages 
and salaries like there? Consider commute times to jobs, 
gasoline and other transportation expenses, and whether the 
distance to jobs resonates with your community's values. 

Consider your needs for proximity to towns or cities, 
an airport, and health care facilities. If you'll have commu- 
nity-owned or individually owned businesses, what 
about local markets for your products or services or 
access to trucking or other delivery services or a post 
office,- if some of you will telecommute, what about 
access to phone lines and the quality of local phone 
service? What about access to farmers markets, CSA 
farms, food co-ops, or health food stores? What about 
proximity to schools, high schools, continuing education 
facilities, and recreational opportunities; or to art, music, 
and culture? 

community's values or sustainability 
goals. For example, like Dancing Rabbit 
and Earthaven you could cluster your 
buildings and design your site to enhance 
community interaction; use permaculture 
design to create mutually reinforcing 
shelter, energy, water, and vegetable gar- 
dens; or build passive solar homes. Raw 
land means you won't have to try to 
counter the effects of a poorly designed 
site or bring poorly designed or shoddily 
constructed buildings up to speed. 

• You can infuse your group's particular 
energy and "vibes" into the site and 
express your own aesthetic taste, instead 
of working with a site that's already "set" 
in its energy and aesthetics. 

• You'll pay less initially. If your group has 
limited funds and enough time to devel- 
op infrastructure as you can afford it, raw 
land may be ideal. While you'll need 
much more money than the land cost to 
turn the property into a place where all of 
you can live, at least you'll have a start 
(and a place to show interested potential 
new members). 

Disadvantages of Buying Raw Land 

• Developing the property — roads, off- 
grid power or bringing in power lines, 
wells or piped water, septic tanks and 
leach fields or sewer hook-ups, and build- 
ing homes and community buildings from 
scratch, takes much more money (twice as 
much? three times?) than if you'd bought 
fully developed property with all the same 
facilities, because everything costs more 
now than when properties were developed 
even just a few years ago. 


• Development and construction usually 
means full-time work for several people 
— paid professionals or community 
members. If you plan to do it yourselves, 
can several of you afford to take leaves of 
absence from (or quit) your jobs for six 
months to a year? Does your develop- 
ment fund include money for labor? 

• Developing and building on the property 
can take far more time (three times 
longer?) than you anticipated. You may 
have to wait a year, or several years to sim- 
ply live in community. If your communi- 
ty has an educational, service or other 
purpose, it may take years to actually start 
fulfilling that purpose. 

Earthaven's founders, for example, bought 
land in December 1994. By the end of the next 
year they'd cleared an area and built an open- 
sided pavilion for workshops and meetings, and 
three small huts for interns, none with electrici- 
ty or running water. By the third year they had 
cleared more land and built a second road, a 
kitchen- dining room with solar electricity and 
running water, a composting toilet, and more 
huts for interns. By the fourth year they had 
built more roads, more huts, and increased their 
amount of off-grid power, but only interns and a 
few members lived on the land. By the sixth year 
they'd built more roads and a community build- 
ing that was usable but not finished. More mem- 
bers had moved to the property, living in huts 
and temporary shelters. By the end of 2002, fully 
seven years after land-purchase, while several 
permanent homes were under construction, only 
one was finished. It'll be years before Earthaven's 
founders live in the thriving village of 150 they 
envisioned in the early 1990s. 

• The development and construction phase 
can be exhausting and can lead to 
burnout, conflict, relationship break-ups, 
and even loss of members. Consider the 
statistics regarding couples breaking up 
while building a new house — and mul- 
tiply it! 

Developed Land — Electricity, Toilets, 
and Showers 

Abundant Dawn in Virginia, Zendik Arts 
Community in North Carolina, New View 
cohousing in Massachusetts, and Higher 
Ground cohousing in Oregon all bought old 
farms. Eden Ranch in Colorado bought a former 
"flying ranch" and airport runway (turning an 
airplane hangar into their community building). 
A community I'll call Pueblo Encantada (see 
Chapter 18) acquired the former servants quar- 
ters and surrounding acreage of a former estate. 

Urban cohousing communities have done it 
too — Doyle Street in the California Bay Area 
bought an urban warehouse; Monterey 
Cohousing in Minneapolis purchased a Georgian 
mansion; Old Oakland Cohousing chose a his- 
toric downtown market building; Southside Park 
in Sacramento and Temescal in Oakland bought 
Victorian homes; Terra Firma in Ottawa 
acquired six 19th-century row houses; and 
Trillium Hollow in Portland got an upscale exec- 
utive's home built in the 1980s. There are as many 
ways to buy and remodel community buildings as 
there are existing buildings out there. 

Abundant Dawn's founders considered 
undeveloped land at first, but later were aghast 
that they thought they might form a community 
that way. "We thought we were going to buy 
property without buildings?" recalls Velma Kahn 
of Abundant Dawn. "Without showers and a 
flush toilet? What were we thinking?" 


I've been involved in two small-group devel- 
opment projects on about ten acres each: one 
starting with raw land and the other with an 
existing house and utilities. In the first instance 
we paid $10,000 for a pipeline to the local water 
co-op and thousands more to bring in electrici- 
ty and build a road. We spent the first seven 
months dealing with permits, inspectors, roads, 
utilities, and hooking up an ancient single-wide 
mobile home, which four of us then crowded 
into for three years (with me sleeping in a tent) 
while we very slowly built our house. In the sec- 
ond instance we moved right in, and by about 18 
months had dug a second well, installed a solar 
system, enlarged the garden, and built two stor- 
age buildings and a second, four-bedroom 

Advantages of Buying Developed Land 

• With buildings, running water, and elec- 
tricity you'll have a "base-camp" on the 
property. One or more people or house- 
holds can live there as early caretakers. 
People can have a place to eat and sleep as 
they build their homes. A house (or 
garage, or barn) can be turned into a com- 
munity building with a common kitchen, 
bathroom, meeting room, and laundry 
facilities for everyone. 

• You can save money in the long run, since 
the property will probably cost less than 
if you built the same improvements from 

• Because you will probably add more 
buildings, you have many of the same 
advantages as buying raw land — you can 
design some of your site and buildings 
with your group's energy, values, and aes- 

Disadvantages of Buying Developed Land 

• You have to raise more money initially. 

• Because you'll mostly like do additional 
construction, you'll have many of the 
same disadvantages as buying raw land 
— expense, time, and potential burnout. 

Fully Developed Turn-key Property — 
Move Right In (With a Big Financial Bite) 

Let's say that you set out to buy fully developed 
turn-key property which will already have most 
of the infrastructure you'll need for an intention- 
al community. 

You could look for old YMCA camps, 
church camps, Boy or Girl Scout camps, confer- 
ence centers, schools, or church complexes. 
"Often you can get a good deal on properties like 
these," says Dave Henson of Sowing 
Circle/OAEC. "Especially if the property is 
devalued because the buildings are funky or 
small, or the property consists of one or more 
small or odd-sized lots, or if there's no view." 

Many forming communities have bought 
and remodeled properties like these. As we've 
seen, Sowing Circle/OAEC bought and reno- 
vated a live-in teaching center, and Lost Valley 
did the same with property that had once been a 
large intentional community. Shenoa Retreat 
and Conference Center in Mendocino County, 
California bought a former children's camp. 
Hank Obermeyer bought eight apartments in 
three existing buildings for Mariposa Grove. 

Advantages of Buying a Turn-key Property 

• It will cost you less in total expenditures 
than if you developed the property from 

• After whatever degree of repairs or 
remodeling may be necessary, you can 


move right in and begin your lives in 
community; if you have an educational, 
service, or other mission, you can begin it 
right away. 

Disadvantages of Buying a Turn-key 

• You can create a cash-flow problem for 
your first few years of operation, as it will 
cost far more at the outset. 

• In some instances, the cost of renovating 
damaged buildings and remodeling 
would be so prohibitive it would be 
cheaper to build from scratch, unless, like 
Lost Valley's founders, you bought prop- 
erty with huge potential for a fraction of 
its current market value. 

• You may inherit a site which is poorly 
designed for social interaction and commu- 
nity glue; for example, the buildings are too 
spread out, or are not facing each other, or 
are not contributing to any kind of central 
commons. It can be poorly designed for 
sustainability; for instance, the flattest and 
most arable land is used for buildings or 
parking lots, the gardens are far from the 
living areas, or the homes are on top of a 
ridge instead of part-way down the slope. 

• You may inherit poorly designed build- 
ings with energy-hog appliances, low to 
no solar access (built on a north slope), or 
thin to no insulation with poor heat 
retention in winter and too much solar 
gain in the summer. Lost Valley, for 
example, bought property with a counter- 
intuitively planned septic system, which 
broke down every time it rained, and 
uninsulated steep-roofed wooden cabins 
in a forest which, though storybook 

charming, grew mold and mildew in the 
wet season. 

• If the property hasn't been lived in for 
awhile you can find termites, rodent 
infestation, frozen or otherwise damaged 
water pipes, leaking roofs, or water- dam- 
aged interiors. 

• You must live with someone else's infu- 
sion of energy and "vibes," or aesthetic 

• You can get yourselves in debt to the hilt, 
dividing enormous mortgage payments 
among too few people, and being eaten 
alive by interest payments while barely 
chipping away at the principal. This can 
cause you become so desperate for relief 
that you consider new community mem- 
bers not for shared vision and values, but 
with a financial gleam in your eye, assess- 
ing how much their monthly payments 
could lift the financial burden you've 
buried yourselves under. 

Buying Property like the Professionals Do 

As you've already seen, no matter what kind of 
property you seek, the process of finding land 
and shopping for financing can be a full-time job 
for someone. It's a good idea to elect one or two 
of your members to do this, since commercial 
developers — your competition — spend full 
time seeking properties just like those you're 
looking for. The property that would make a 
great site for a community would also make a 
great site for a subdivision, from a developer's 
point of view. So if you can afford it, do as 
Dancing Rabbit, Earthaven, and Sowing 
Circle/OAEC did and arrange for one or more 
members to make this work their sole occupa- 
tion for awhile. 


Commercial developers and real estate pro- 
fessionals use the following tools and strategies 
to get the best value for their money; there's 
absolutely no reason you can't use the same ones. 

• Find out how much money your group 
can borrow. Whether you'll be seeking 
owner financing, private loans, or a mort- 
gage from a local bank or lending institu- 
tion, knowing your borrowing power 
ahead of time can help you determine your 
price range, and whether you'll want to add 
more people to your group to raise more 
money (and more borrowing power). 


Why do some parcels of raw land cost three or four times 
more that other parcels of similar size? The price of unde- 
veloped property is affected not only by its size, but by 
how it could potentially be developed. 

First, if it's in an area the city or county has zoned for 
intensive development it will be worth more than if it 
were in an area zoned for more restrictive development. 
Second, if the owner has already secured approval for 
subdivision and development — with approvals for 
streets, utilities, or other infrastructure, and an approved 
"tentative map" showins the boundaries of the new lots 
to be created — while the land physically looks the 
same, it's now in the "paper lots" stage and worth con- 
siderably more to potential developers because the 
time-consumins and expensive process of getting these 
approvals has been completed. 

If your group finds desirable land like this but you 
don't want to subdivide or develop it as it's currently 
approved, keep looking. There's no point paying two or 
three times the price for approvals that won't benefit 
your future development. 

• Master current property values and "the 
market" in your chosen area, so you'll 
recognize a high price and a low price 
when you see one — whether or not you 
plan to work with a real estate agent to 
find property. 

• Armed with this knowledge begin the 
search — and consider all properties that 
meet your criteria, whether or not they're 
currently on the market. 

Assessing Your Potential Borrowing Power 

Experienced real estate brokers recommend get- 
ting preliminary information from local banks 
and lending institutions about how much you 
can borrow before conducting your search (even 
though you may not borrow from these sources). 

To do this, each group member or household 
adds up four sets of figures: 

1. Total monthly income 

2. Total assets 

3. Total amount of debt owed 

4. Total monthly payments for these debts 

With this information in hand, make intro- 
ductory information-gathering visits to the sen- 
ior officers of banks and lending institutions in 
your chosen area. Ask for information on rates, 
loan alternatives, and if they would consider 
loaning money to a group like yours (since not all 
lenders make all types of loans). Be sure to refer 
to yourselves as "a group of families" or a "group 
of households" — not as a "community" or an 
"ecovillage." There's no point conjuring up images 
of "hippie commie cult" in the minds of the 
(probably conservative) bankers. 

Here are two do-it-yourself methods for 
making rough estimates of your potential bor- 
rowing power. 


Add up the total annual gross income of 
everyone in the group who might cosign on a 
loan, then double this amount. This is roughly 
how much a bank would loan you. One percent 
of that amount would be the approximate 
amount of your monthly mortgage payment. 
Let's say you're a group of six people, and every- 
one's total gross annual income adds up to 
$250,000. Using this formula, you could (rough- 
ly) borrow $500,000 as a group. Your monthly 
mortgage payment would be roughly $5,000, or 
$833 a month each. 

Let's say you found desirable property with 
an asking price of $460,000. Knowing in advance 
that you have this amount of borrowing power, 
and if you had at least $45,000 in cash already, 
you could offer $445,000, with 10 percent 
($44,500) down, seek a $400,000 mortgage, and 
set aside $100,000 of the loan for repairs, renova- 
tion, and new construction. 

The second method is based on monthly 
income. Add up everyone's total monthly gross 
income. Twenty- nine percent of this amount 
represents the maximum monthly land payment 
you'd be able to maintain (including principal, 
interest, property tax, and insurance). Now add 
up everyone's total monthly debt payments. 
Most commercial lenders consider ten percent of 
your monthly gross income to be the maximum 
you should be paying out to maintain other 
debts. If your monthly debt payments add up to 
more than ten percent of your total monthly 
income, the amount you'd have available for 
monthly land payments would be reduced pro- 
portionately. For example, if your group's gross 
monthly income is $20,000, that allows for a land 
payment of $5800 per month, and $2000 for 
other debts. If your group's other debts amount 
to, for example, $2500, then your land payment 
amount will drop accordingly, to $5300. 

It's a good idea at this point, before starting 
the search, to find out the credit rating of each 
group member that may be co-signing on a loan, 
or otherwise contributing to monthly land pay- 
ments. You can do this by getting credit reports 
on each member and reviewing them as a group. 
If one of you has bad credit, you might ask that 
person to bring his or her credit into good stand- 
ing now, before your group begins trying to 
obtain a loan. 

Method A: Working with Real Estate 

When it comes to finding land for new commu- 
nities, there are three possible routes to take. You 
could work with one or more real estate agents, 
you could work on your own, or you could work 
on your own with help from an agent some of 
the time. 

Let's look at how realty companies work. 

Real estate agents enter into contracts with 
property owners for three to twelve months to 
find a buyer (called "listing" a property). The real 
estate agent markets the property with For Sale 
signs, ads in the newspaper and local real estate 
publications, a description in the local Multiple 
Listing Service, and by driving potential buyers 
out to visit the property. If the property sells dur- 
ing the contract period, the agent who listed the 
property gets the amount of commission agreed 
upon with the buyer, usually four to ten percent 
of the final sales price. The commission is paid to 
the agent whether the agent actually sells the 
property, or the owner sells it directly to buyers 
who just happened by, such as your group. 
Therefore, if you approach a property owner 
directly whose property is currently under con- 
tract with an agent (or, in most cases, was under 
contract within the previous six months to a 
year), the agent's commission will still be a factor 


in any sales price you and the seller may agree on. 
Of course, you can still negotiate with both of 
them about the commission. 

Let's say your group decides to work with one 
or more real estate agents because they know the 
market and available properties far better than 
you do, and you don't have the time or energy to 
devote to mastering the local market as is sug- 
gested below. The first thing you should know is 
that, since agents list properties for the property 
owners, they are contractually obligated to get 
highest price and the most favorable terms for 
the sellers, rather than the lowest price and most 
favorable terms for the potential buyers. 

One option, however, is to sign a "buyer's 
agent" contract with one agent for one to three 
months or longer. This means the agent now 
works for you, not the seller, and will try to find 
you property at the lowest price and best terms, 
for either a flat fee or a percentage of the final 
sales price, depending on what you and the agent 
negotiate. Look at the contract to see whether it 
contains a clause which says the fee goes to the 
agent even if you find and buy property on your 
own after the contract expires. If so, you may 
want to strike that clause. All clauses and fees in 
any contract with a real estate agent are nego- 
tiable. Experienced real estate buyers (and many 
community founders), strongly recommend pay- 
ing a real estate attorney to look over any con- 
tracts before signing. 

While some agents will work with your 
group as buyer's agents without any proof of 
your ability to buy property, other agents will not 
unless they, or a local lending institution, have 
pre-qualified you financially, and your group has 
a preliminary commitment for a mortgage from 
a lender. The agent may also want to first see the 
net-worth statements and credit reports of each 
individual in the group before working with you. 

The kind of service you get from a real 
estate agent and the fee you pay for it can 
depend on what you and the agent agree upon 
ahead of time. You might agree on a full service 
package in which the agent takes you out on 
half-day or full-day property tours, or on a sim- 
pler service, in which the agent gives you rele- 
vant printouts from their Multiple Listing 
Service database and a map, and sends you on 
your way. 

You'll need to find the right agent for your 
group, and one who specializes in the kind of 
property you're seeking. If you're looking for a 
rural location, start with agents who specialize in 
farm and ranch properties; if it's an urban loca- 
tion you're after, look for agents who specialize in 
commercial or multi-family properties. 

You may want to do as Sowing Circle/ 
OAEC did, and write a form letter to all the 
agents affiliated with the local Board of Realtors 
or Multiple Listing Service, as well as any other 
local agents listed in the phone book. Dave 
Henson of Sowing Circle recommends adding 
in bold letters at the bottom of the letter: "Please 
do not contact us unless you have property that 
fits this description." Sowing Circle/OAEC did- 
n't do this, and got calls about three-bedroom 
homes in suburbia. He also suggests that you 
introduce yourselves as "a group of families" or "a 
group of families and individuals," rather than as 
an "intentional community" or an'ecovillage." You 
don't want to confuse, prejudice, or scare them. 
(See Chapter 9, "Sowing Circle's Letter to Real 
Estate Agents.") 

Whether you shop for an agent by sending 
letters or by visiting many realty offices, when 
you find one you like and trust, and who res- 
onates with your values, tell the agent enough of 
what you want and why you want it, so he or she 
can truly help you. 


Mastering the Local Real Estate Market on 
Your Own 

Bob Watzke, a real estate dealer and developer in 
Milwaukee who has long been involved in inten- 
tional communities, encourages community 
founders to do it on their own; however, follow- 
ing his advice below can also empower your 
group and make you more savvy property buyers 
if you are working with real estate agents. He 
advises thoroughly learning property values in 
your desired area so you'll recognize a good deal 
when you see one, and acquiring and studying 
the following kinds of local marketing data. 

1. Market value reports on recent sales in the 
area. Prepared by a realty company, a market 
value report demonstrates that the asking 
price of the particular property the realty 
company has listed for sale is in line with 
local market values, through a comparison of 
the prices and features of other similar prop- 
erties recently sold in the area. 

2. Comparable sales books. Compiled by the 
local Multiple Listing Service, these books 
itemize properties in similar or "comparable" 
categories, showing their prices and features. 
(Because market value reports and compara- 
ble sales books are prepared by real estate 
agents, you may need to pay a realty compa- 
ny for them, unless you're working with an 
agent who provides them.) 

3. Record of all realty properties recently sold. 
This information is usually available in the 
office of the County Registrar of Deeds. 

4. Databases of recently sold properties and 
their sales prices, and current properties for 
sale and their asking prices. Compiled and 
owned by local real estate appraisers for their 
own use, these can be made available for a 


"Real estate lawyers can be invaluable — use them!" says 
experienced real estate dealer Bob Watzke. Your attorney 
can prepare and review your sales offer and any subse- 
quent contracts prior to submittal, advise you on nesoti- 
ations, prepare loan and deed documents, order title 
work from a title company, and advise you at the closins. 
"Pay your lawyer 30 to 50 percent in advance and he or 
she will sive you even better service," Bob adds. "But fol- 
low up with him or her frequently, since 'squeaky wheels' 
still set the best service." 

In some states, closinss are handled by a lawyer who 
represents both buyer and seller in place of a title com- 
pany, and the closins is held in their office. In other 
states, attorneys can act as brokers. 

Bob sussests keepins your attorney in the back- 
Sround unless the seller has one too. "Ask your attorney 
to review ever/thins you're supposed to sisn before you 
sisn it, not after," he cautions. If you find yourself in a 
position where you must sisn a contract by a certain time 
and your attorney hasn't seen it, Bob sussests you insist 
on insertins the clause: "This contract is subject to my/our 
attorney's review and written approval within forty-eisht 
(48) hours after acceptance or this contract shall become 
null and void, at the buyer's option." 

5. Comparable Sales Study. This is a descrip- 
tion, including sale price, of all the properties 
similar to the kind you're seeking that have 
been sold in the recent past (usually the last 
six months) in your chosen area. This is pre- 
pared especially for your group by a profes- 
sional real estate appraiser, for a fee. 
(Appraisers are real estate evaluation experts 
who determine the current market value of 
properties by comparing the features and 
final sale price of other similar properties 
sold in the same area.) A comparable sales 
study will probably cost more than the usual 


kind of appraisal (which determines the cur- 
rent market value of a specific property), but 
if you can afford it, this analysis will offer 
valuable insight into current property values 
in the area. 

Most counties and municipalities have a zon- 
ing map of the county or municipality which 
shows how each area is zoned (meaning what 
kinds of development can take place within 
those areas), whether such zoning might be 
changed, and how to go about doing so. You can 
also look up tax maps, which show the bound- 
aries of every property in the county or city. 
Through the tax numbers of each property, you 
can also get the names and contact information 
for each property owner. 

Study your marketing data. By examining the 
tax records and zoning designations for various 
areas, and by driving around and looking at prop- 
erties, you'll learn promising areas to consider 
within your chosen location. You'll also get an 
idea of the average cost per acre or per square foot 
in these areas, and which factors in these areas 
may be most significant in determining price — 
for example, the size of the property, location and 
zoning, views, access to water, type of soil, trees, 
and proximity to major roads. You'll learn which 
are the most desirable properties for your pur- 
poses, how they're zoned, and who owns them. 

By continuing to add information to your com- 
parable sales study, Bob says, you will eventually 
come to know more than the local professionals 
themselves about what's going on in the area during 
the time of your search. (You'll also have back-up 
material to support your proposal to lenders, 
appraisers, and sellers when you make an offer.) 

"A well-informed negotiator — knowing 
whether any given piece of property is priced too 
high, too low, or at the going market rate — can 

save you thousands, even tens of thousands of 
dollars when you buy at the low end of the value 
range," Bob says. "Not to mention that you can 
save more when you are informed enough to 
negotiate your price and an owner-financed loan 
under your terms." 

Conducting the Search — On Your Own 
or with a Real Estate Agent 

Besides the obvious places to look for properties 
such as local newspapers, free real estate publica- 
tions, "For Sale" signs, and any local for-sale-by- 
owner organizations, be sure to do what develop- 
ers and real estate agents do — scour every road in 
your desired location by car. Correlate the map 
with addresses you see on mailboxes. Get out of 
the car, climb on top of it if need be, or bring a lad- 
der to stand on so you can see better or get a sense 
of a property's view. Ask neighbors about various 
properties that seem interesting. "Do you know 
how large it is?" "Does it go all the way to that 
fence over there?""Do you know who owns it?" 

At city hall or the county courthouse, check 
on various properties; find out when they last 
sold, and how much they sold for. This is time- 
consuming work, but it does give you expertise 
on property in that area, and puts you on a near- 
equal footing with developers, who know the 
land as well or better. 

Like Dancing Rabbit and Sowing 
Circle/OAEC, you might write letters or call 
owners of properties that interest you, or the 
owners of properties next door to those that 
interest you, if you can't find the current owner. 
You might say something like, "May I speak with 
you? You have a beautiful farm/homestead/piece 
of property here. We're seeking something like 
this for our group of families to farm/grow 
organic vegetables/build passive-solar houses (or 
whatever it is you'd like to do). Do you know of 


any other farms /homesteads /properties like this 
in the (whatever general area you're looking in), 
where the owners might consider selling to a 
group like us?" This kind of approach can open 
the door for property owners to invite you in, 
show you around, and possibly consider selling 
to you themselves. But maybe not. While you'll 
meet some nice people this way, and learn a lot 
more about the county, also be prepared to expe- 
rience some cool or angry dismissals. Don't be 
discouraged; just keep going. 

Like Dancing Rabbit, you may find property 
with an absentee owner. "Say, do you know who 
takes care of that property over there?" you might 
ask some neighbors. Or, "Do you happen to 
know how I might be able to contact the owner?" 

Once you've found a few likely properties, 
it's time to start researching them a bit more 

Investigating Likely Properties 

With or without the help of real estate agents, 
let's say you've found several likely properties 
that meet most of your criteria. Just because a 
property looks good doesn't mean it will be suit- 
able over the long run, so you must do further 
research, primarily involving water issues (if it's 
rural land), potential dangers to the land from 
natural causes or other people's plans, zoning 
and land-use issues, neighbor issues, and financ- 
ing options for that particular property. 

For properties you're seriously considering, 
make sure you get an Owner's Disclosure 
Statement (now required by many states), or a 
similar list, showing any problems with appli- 
ances, wiring systems, structural aspects, envi- 
ronmental factors, or legal issues that could 
affect the property. 

Most experienced real estate buyers do a pre- 
liminary feasibility study like this on every prop- 

erty that fits their criteria, narrow them down to 
the most promising properties, and pick one that 
seems like the best choice, given the information 
they uncover. I suggest you do the same. Here 
are some issues to look into in order to narrow 
your search. Gathering this information can also 
help you negotiate a price with the seller. 

Zoning. What activities, and what population 
density, are allowed on this property by local 
zoning regulations? What is the likelihood of 
getting a zoning variance, special use permit, or 
other kind of exception, and what might it cost? 
This is such a significant issue we take it up more 
thoroughly in Chapter 11. 

Water. If it's rural property, is there enough 
water for your purposes? What are county regu- 
lations regarding the amount of available water 
relative to the number of houses you plan to have 
and the number of people who will live there? 
Are any springs, streams, or ponds year-round? 
What's their water quality? Have weather pat- 
terns been changing in the area? Have creeks 
been drying up? Have wells been running dry? 
You could talk to neighbors in the area and local 
well drillers, or pay a local well driller or a dows- 
er to assess in a general way where they think 
ground water would most likely be, in case you'll 
need to dig any future wells. Does your develop- 
ment fund have money for drilling wells and 
installing pumps? Are roof water catchments 
allowed in this area? Does the county health 
department have rules about it? What would it 
cost to bring in piped water? 

Roads. If it's rural property and you'll need to 
build your own roads, are there likely places for 
roads, or does it have too many steep slopes? What 
would be the likely costs for building gravel roads 



Contrary to popular belief about individual property 
rights, county, town, and city governments have broad 
legal powers to regulate the use of all land within their 
boundaries in order to protect local residents from 
potential health and safety impacts of new develop- 
ments. Local governments regulate land use primarily 
through a General Plan and through zoning regulations. 

A General Plan is a document which creates an 
image of what the local area will be like in the foresee- 
able future. It describes policies and goals, and des- 
ignates what land uses, population densities, and 
public facilities will be permitted or encouraged in 
each area. 

Zoning regulations enforce the General Plan's land- 
use policies and goals by dividing the county or 
municipality into various use districts, such as rural, 
rural-residential, residential, commercial, industrial, 
and agricultural. Zoning primarily regulates density 
(the number of residents allowed per acre), building 
mass, setback from property boundaries, and parking. 

Subdivision ordinances of the state, county, or city 
are a separate set of codes from the normal zoning 
regulations. Property owners wanting to subdivide 
property into smaller parcels and sell some or all of 
them must meet the conditions of the subdivision 
ordinances, which usually require specific setbacks, 

building size and dimension restrictions, density, and 
specific kinds of improvements such as roads, utilities, 
and so on. 

Many local governments offer various levels and 
types of exceptions or changes to zoning regulations. 
These include rezoning, zoning variances, conditional 
use permits or special use permits, non-conforming 
use permits, and other kinds of exceptions. These 
must be specially applied for and approved by plan- 
ning departments, city councils, planning commis- 
sions or county boards of supervisors. Exceptions are 
granted if the new development meets certain special 
requirements, helps the county or municipality meet 
the goals of its General Plan, or offers certain benefits 
to the area such as additional parking, preserved open 
space, a protected wildlife corridor, and so on. 

Sometimes exceptions to zoning regulations are 
granted directly by local officials, but they usually 
involve a public hearing, where potential neighbors to 
the proposed development are invited to express 
their support for or concerns about it. Since the offi- 
cials making the decision are elected, the neighbors, 
as potential voters, have a great deal of clout. They can 
make or break a community's proposed development 
project and affect whether or not the founders will 
pursue buying a particular parcel. 

(which must be redone every five to seven years), 
or much more expensive asphalt roads? 

Utilities. If it's rural property, do telephone lines 
or power come that far? If not, what would it 
cost to bring them to your property? What 
would it cost to dig a well? How much power 
would you need to operate a pump? Is the site 
appropriate for generating your own power 
through micro-hydro, wind, or sun (or some 
combination)? If it's semi-rural or suburban 

property, what would be the cost to hook up to 
power, gas, and sewer lines? Having utilities 
readily available to a site or having to extend lines 
to your property or create them yourselves can 
make an enormous difference in the amount of 
money you must put aside for land development. 

Septic systems. If it's rural property, what are 
county health department requirements about 
septic systems and the amount of people living on 
the land (usually based on your expected number 


of bedrooms)? How well does any current septic 
system work? Does the soil perc well enough for 
additional leach fields if you'll need them? You 
could pay a soils consultant to walk the property 
and give a visual assessment of likely percability 
and likely places for leach fields, and estimated 
costs. Or you could pay for perc testing before 
buying the property to find this out. 

State of existing buildings. Most professional 
inspections take place during the closing period. 
However, if you're seriously considering a prop- 
erty with buildings, you can always arrange for 
an earlier inspection, to find out if there are any 
potential repair costs that would be so prohibi- 
tive as to lower your offer, or change your mind 
about the property entirely. What would it cost 
to repair or replace any foundations, roofs, or 
wood damaged by termites or dry rot? Does any 
plumbing need to be replaced? Do any buildings 
need rewiring? Are there problems with radon? 
(And while we're at it, do dowsers find any prob- 
lems with geopathic zones? Can they be mitigat- 
ed? And, going further out on a limb, is the place 
haunted? And if so, can you get it cleansed?) 

Building codes. What kinds of building con- 
struction is allowed in this county or city? Could 
you build the kinds of buildings you want on the 
property? (See Chapter 13.) 

Possible future problems. What might be any 
potential dangers in the area? Have there been 
floods? Where would flood waters flow on this 
property, and what might be damaged? Would 
floodwaters flow where you'd ideally like to build? 
Are there fire hazards, such as dry brush down- 
hill and downwind from structures? Are there 
any ponds that would be dangerous for small 
children? Any marshy areas or ponds that breed 

mosquitoes? What has the property been used 
for in the past? Have hazardous waste materials 
been dumped there? Should it be tested for envi- 
ronmental contaminants? What would be the 
cost? Does the property have sensitive wetlands, 
or is it home to an endangered species that must 
be protected at the buyer's expense? Is the prop- 
erty downwind or downstream from cattle ranch- 
es, pig farms, or poultry operations with manure 
polluting the watershed, or from manufacturing 
plants or commercial agriculture fields with toxic 
outputs? What future development is planned 
for the area, or for next door? If it's rural proper- 
ty in a western, open-range state, how much 
would you need to spend to fence your neighbors' 
livestock out? (And if it's property in a wilderness 
area traditionally used by hunters, will you con- 
tinue to let them hunt on your property? If you 
don't want hunting, is there any safe way to pre- 
vent it? Could you afford to fence hunters out?) 

Possible legal issues. Must any legal hurdles be 
cleared before the property can be purchased? For 
example, is it owned in trust by a family, where all 
members must agree to sell it? Is it owned by a 
non-profit with internal agreements that it can 
only be sold to another non-profit? Is it part of a 
larger development project whose owners are 
placing design or other constraints on whomever 
develops it? Will any of this require negotiation 
with lawyers, and if so, what will it cost? 

Neighbors. What would your neighbors be like? 
Are they progressive, "alternative," politically or 
religiously conservative? Would they welcome a 
group of families or households moving next door? 
If they heard the term "intentional community," 
would they feel apprehensive? Would they assume 
"hippie commie cult?" What is their lifestyle? Are 
they into loud parties, drinking, or drugs, and if it's 


a rural area, noisy trucks, barking dogs, hunting, or 
shotguns? What structures or activities can you 
see and hear from your property, and what struc- 
tures or activities of yours would they be able to 
see and hear from theirs? (See Chapter 11.) 

Amount of offer. What's a realistic offer to make 
on this property? Once they've found a promis- 
ing property, some groups pay for an appraisal of 
that property to get a realistic sense of its current 
market value. If you've done your homework, 
with all the marketing data you've collected this 
may not be necessary. 

Financing. If you're not paying the full sale price 
with the group's assets, can you arrange private 
financing, owner-financing, or bank financing 
for this property? (See Chapter 12 for more on 

Taking Property Off the Market While 
You Do Further Research 

After researching the most promising properties 
and comparing the results, experienced real 
estate buyers pick one that seems to be the best 
choice. The prospective buyer takes the property 
off the market in one of two ways; either by mak- 
ing an "offer to purchase" with contingencies in 
the sales contract allowing one to three months 
(or more) to conduct a more detailed feasibility 
study, or by offering to purchase the property 
using an "option to purchase." 

If the prospective buyer chooses an "offer to 
purchase" and during the contingency time dis- 
covers that the property doesn't satisfy the con- 
tingencies, the contract can be voided and the sale 
doesn't go through. The prospective buyer loses 
no money, and tries again with the next most 
promising property, if it's still on the market. 

Making an Offer with Contingencies 

Let's say your group chooses a likely property and 
you decide to make an offer with contingencies. 
How much to offer depends on what you learned 
from your research of current local property val- 
ues, how desirable this property is to you, the 
condition of the property, your guess as to needs 
and circumstances of the seller, and how much 
money you have to spend on this property to do 
any repairs, renovations, or further development. 

Your offer proposes your sales price, amount 
of down payment and other financing terms, the 
date of closing, and all terms of the contract and 
contingencies of the sale. It may be accompanied 
by a check for a certain amount of "earnest 
money," usually a nominal amount that is negoti- 
ated between you and the seller, usually ranging 
from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. 
"Never give more than you are willing to walk 
away from and write off," advises Bob Watzke. 

The contract states that your group will buy the 
property dependant on your finding out and/or 
accomplishing certain things during the contin- 
gency period. This permits you, the buyer, to make 
sure the property is appropriate for your needs. 

The seller may accept or reject your group's 
offer or make a counter offer. You can agree to 
buy the property at this new price, or make a sec- 
ond offer. After you and the buyer have negotiat- 
ed the price and terms, you sign a sales contract, 
which (unless the seller doesn't agree) takes the 
property off the market for the agreed-upon con- 
tingency period. 

Although contingencies are specific to a 
particular buyer and a specific property, a typi- 
cal printed sales contract form (depending on 
the state) offers check boxes for many of the fol- 
lowing items. Whichever items the buyer 
checks off (or writes into the contract) must be 


accomplished or learned to the buyer's satisfac- 
tion in order for the deal to go through: 

1. The buyer's ability to secure financing. 

2. A property inspection, if called for by the 
buyer, who pays for it. 

3. A boundary survey which, if the seller 
doesn't already have, the buyer pays for. 

4. Determining any easements, liens or unpaid 
taxes that exsist, usually taken care of by the 
title company or real estate lawyer. 

5. Tests for radon and hazardous wastes, if 
called for by the buyer, who pays for it. 

6. The status of any mineral leases previously 
placed on the land, which the seller must divulge, 
as these constitute an encumbrance on the tide 
(a limitation of rights to use the property). 

7. Additional pieces of information or concerns 
which the buyer must know and be satisfied 
about in order to buy the property. For exam- 
ple, if you're subdividing the property into 
smaller, separate units that members will 
own individually, one of these write-in con- 
tingencies should be having your subdivision 
map approved by local planning officials. If 
this involves having a request for a zoning 
variance approved, that must be a written 
contingency as well. 

Assuming all your contingencies are met, the sale 
closes. (If contingencies are met but you change 
your minds about buying the property and refuse 
to close, you may either forfeit the earnest money 
and/or face additional claims for damages.) 

Offering an Option 

Let's say you plan a large community with many 
members living on a large or otherwise expensive 
property, and so much money is at stake you'd 
like a longer time to research it. Or let's say you'll 
need a special use permit or zoning variance to 
build what you want on a particular property, 

and/or you plan to subdivide your land so that 
members will have deeds to their own lots, and 
you need more time to learn whether you can get 
the use permit or the variance or if your pro- 
posed plat map will be accepted. Either because 
so much money is potentially at stake, or it's not 
certain that you'll get the use permit or the vari- 
ance, you may decide to take the property off the 
market for a longer period so you can research 
these issues by making an offer in the form of an 
"option to purchase." This means you pay a 
negotiated amount of option money for the 
exclusive right to purchase the property at an 
agreed-upon price during an agreed-upon period 
of time, such as six months to a year or more. 
This gives you additional time to conduct your 
feasibility study. If your group decides the prop- 
erty won't work for your purposes, you forfeit the 
option money. If you decide to buy it, or "exercise 
the option," the option money may or may not be 
applied to the purchase price, depending on 
what you or the seller negotiated. 

The money you pay to learn whether a prop- 
erty is right for you — the option fee and any 
costs for permits, fees, and professional surveys 
or reports — is high risk. If you don't buy that 
particular property you won't recover it. You'll 
need to consider these funds part of the cost of 
conducting a property search and be willing to 
walk away from the fee if necessary. 

You, your attorney, or a real estate broker 
may draft an option. There are standard printed 
forms for them too. 

Two of the most crucial challenges for commu- 
nity founders are resolving any zoning issues and 
securing financing. We'll examine these in 
Chapters 11 and 12. 

^ Chapter 1 1 « 

Neishbors and Zonins 

IN 1998, DOZENS OF PEOPLE from around the 
county began meeting on the Internet in 
response to Luc Reid's call for cofounders of an 
income-sharing community in rural New 
England. After figuring out a way to do the 
Formal Consensus process online, and meeting 
every few months to get to know each other and 
make more significant decisions in person, the 
group deputized two of their members to find 
property in Vermont. They wanted at least 125 
acres near a town with attractive culture and a 
healthy economy. The property needed good 
southern exposure for passive solar buildings, 
accessibility to roads and utilities, possibly 
enough water for micro-hydro power, woods to 
ramble in, and areas where they could keep live- 
stock, do some organic farming, and operate 
community businesses. They decided to call 
their community "Meadowdance." 

How Zoning Issues can Impact 
Community Plans 

In 1999, the Meadowdance group found 165 
acres of raw land with almost everything they 
wanted, just outside a progressive college town in 
Vermont. The property had woods, an old apple 
orchard and plenty of berry bushes, a large stand 

of maple trees for making maple syrup, lovely 
meadows, and a hill with south-facing slopes, 
and best of all, a jaw-dropping view. 

They had intended to have about 20 group 
members before they bought property, but at 
this point only eight were willing to commit, so 
they forged ahead with a much smaller group, 
spending the next year in the land-purchase 

The asking price was $250,000. They raised 
$130,000 from their own contributions (in 
$5,000 and $10,000 increments, with one family 
putting in the lion's share), and knew they'd need 
to get a bank loan as well, using their combined 
borrowing power. With the loan and their cash, 
they would make a down payment, bring in util- 
ities, build their community building, buy 
mobile homes as temporary housing, and start 
their software testing business, keeping enough 
cash in reserve to make mortgage payments until 
their business took off. 

They created a Limited Liability Partnership 
to own the property, and put down a $10,000 
option to take it off the market for a year. They 
spent another $10,000 researching the property, 
getting surveys and various soil, water, and other 
tests, and acquiring a state septic system permit 



and an Act 250 permit (a Vermont requirement 
that addresses a new development's potential 
economic, ecological, and social impacts). Their 
next step was to apply for a conditional use per- 
mit for a Planned Residential Development 

They had also spent some time designing 
their large three-story community building — 
which they considered central to their function- 
ing as an income- sharing community — with 
apartments, office and other business space, 
recreational space, a large kitchen and dining 
room for community meals, and rooms for learn- 
ing, the arts, and music. 

And, since Meadowdance wasn't hiding their 
plans, when a local newspaper approached them 
to do a series of articles, they agreed. They later 
wished they hadn't though, since each of the 
three articles contained serious inaccuracies, and 
repeatedly referred to the group as a "commune." 

At their first public hearing some neighbors 
didn't want them to get a conditional use permit, 
saying that the group's large community building 
would negatively impact their view. One of the 
planning commissioners also objected to the 
building's high profile on the hill. Concerns were 
also expressed about the amount of traffic that 
their project might generate. So over the next 
few months group members visited with and 
heard the concerns and ideas of as many poten- 
tial neighbors as possible, and shared their vision 
for Meadowdance. They redesigned their com- 
munity building to have a lower profile and sit 
lower down on the slope, and showed their 
redesigned plan to neighbors and the planning 
department, as well as giving specific assurances 
of their anticipated impact on local traffic. By the 
time of the second public hearing they had gar- 
nered so much public support that the chairman 
of the planning department commission 

declared his enthusiasm for the project, and 
prominent local citizens stood up to speak in 
favor of it. 

But another member of the planning com- 
mission now raised objections to the building's 
multiple functions. "To approve the conditional 
use permit," Luc says, "she required us to hack up 
our community building into three separate 
buildings, and accept stringent limitations on 
what could go on in any given building." The 
group was stunned; these requirements were 
unusual. Traditionally, the planning commission 
could either grant a conditional use permit or 
not, but they didn't actually have jurisdiction 
about what activities might take place in its 

Over the next few weeks the Meadowdance 
group considered their options. By this time 
they really liked the location and had fallen in 
love with this particular property. They had 
conducted an enormous amount of research on 
it, invested $20,000 in the option and permitting 
process, and figured out how they could swing 
the purchase and create temporary housing for 

It came down to having three choices. First, 
they could agree to the restrictions, and chop up 
their community building. Not only would this 
cost significantly more, it would disrupt the flow 
of social and economic connections and commu- 
nity "glue," which, because they understood the 
relationship between architecture and human 
interaction, they had painstakingly designed into 
the building. Second, they could appeal, and 
would probably win, given that this commission- 
er offered the only opposition, and she didn't 
have a substantial case. Third, they could just 
walk away from the property. 

After much discussion, they decided on the 
third option. "We didn't want to fight the town," 


said Luc. While the commissioner was alone in 
her objection, the other commissioners weren't 
particularly outraged by it, and seemed to accept 
her new conditions. It was as if the town, 
through one if its officials, had said "No." Even if 
the founders could win an appeal, they didn't 
want to begin their community life on such a 
negative basis. So they walked away, leaving their 
investment of money and time, and their heart- 
felt connection to the property. 

As an interim measure they bought a large 
house in another Vermont town, moved in, and 
kicked off their community businesses there. 
("We later realized how hard it would have been 
to develop the property and start new commu- 
nity businesses," says Luc.) At this writing, sev- 
eral years later, Meadowdance has found and 
bought an even better property, and are willing 
to try again. 

Zoning Issues and Your Property 

The General Plan and zoning regulations of a 
county or municipality are aimed at regulating 
new development, and most intentional commu- 
nities fall into that category. Therefore, the same 
regulations designed to limit the excesses of large 
commercial developers also limit what commu- 
nity founders can do. Zoning regulations can 
cover building size and impact on the landscape, 
as we've seen with Meadowdance, but most affect 
communities in terms of density and house clus- 
tering. And while increasing numbers of coun- 
ties and municipalities now allow clustered 
development, the total number of houses usual- 
ly must not exceed density requirements. If a 
core group of 20, for example, wanted to buy 200 
acres in an area that allowed clustered develop- 
ment but was zoned for one house per 40 acres, 
the group could cluster no more than five hous- 
es on the property. Building more would require 

getting a zoning variance, a conditional use per- 
mit, or some other kind of zoning exception. 

Density is usually the central zoning chal- 
lenge for community founders, since the greater 
the number of members they can spread their 
costs between, the more likely they'll be able to 
afford to buy their property and develop their 
community. (Communities founded in the 
1970s and '80s didn't jump through these hoops 
because many more counties had few or no zon- 
ing regulations then. Ma and Pa counterculture 
could just buy an old farm and move in.) 

As mentioned earlier, in the progressive areas 
where you'd think it would be easier to buy land 
for a community, it's often worse. Many city 
planners in environmentally aware areas such as 
Boulder or Amherst are already advocates of sus- 
tainable development, and would love to see 
more clustered development with open space, 
shared housing, passive solar design, pedestrian 
pathways, and so on. Appalled by the urban 
sprawl and acres of parking lots, environmental- 
ly oriented citizens in such areas often elect offi- 
cials who promise to enact and enforce stringent 
"no growth" or "slow growth" policies. While 
such policies effectively restrict commercial 
developers from churning out more housing sub- 
divisions or strip malls, the same policies also 
stop community founders from creating the very 
kinds of sustainable developments local planners 
and officials would most like to see. 

One practical way to deal with zoning regu- 
lations is to do as Dancing Rabbit did and shop 
for counties that have little to no zoning and 
bypass the issue altogether. But, as we've seen, 
this can decrease the likelihood of members' 
finding local jobs, setting up the new challenge of 
how members in such a low-population area 
might make a living. Another way is to buy prop- 
erty that's already zoned for your planned use 



In the 1 990s a group of seven founders planning a spir- 
itual community I'll call Ponderosa Village bought 210 
acres in the high desert of Colorado. They tried to get 
approval for higher density than five houses, since their 
particular parcel had enough water for 1 5 houses. After 
being refused, the founders considered subdividing 
their property into six 35-acre triangular parcels that all 
met in the center like the slices of a pie, then building 
a large house on each parcel around the center where 
the parcels met. They would use one as a common 
house, and, after the building inspectors went home, 
they'd remodel five of the houses into triplexes. While 
they toyed with this idea for awhile, they didn't end up 
doing it, since they really didn't want to break the law. 
They eventually disbanded as a forming-community 
group and subdivided the parcel into six rectangular 
lots which they sold to others. 

What happens when a property owner violates zon- 
ing regulations or building codes? Nothing — unless 
their violations are visible from the road, or if a neighbor 
turns them in. Counties and municipalities don't have the 

manpower to scour every back road and drive onto 
every property to enforce zoning and building code 
compliance. But they're duty-bound to respond to a 
neighbor's complaint, since the person lodging the 
complaint is most likely a voter and public officials must 
respond if they want to be re-elected. If Ponderosa 
Village had gone ahead with their idea they would have 
been vulnerable to any neighbor over the years blowing 
the whistle on the secret triplexes in each house. 

A well-known story in the communities movement 
concerns Morningstar Ranch, a famous commune 
north of San Francisco in the 1970s, where a hundred 
or so residents lived in tents, tipis, and tar-paper 
shanties. Their over-the-top density and substandard 
housing worked for awhile, but after a neighbor com- 
plained the county gave notice that the buildings must 
be dismantled and the excessive population must 
disperse. When Morningstar Ranch refused, early one 
morning county workers rumbled out to the property 
in bulldozers, and as everyone watched, smashed 
into rubble every one of their illegal homes. 

and density. While some cohousing groups and 
urban communities like Mariposa Grove have 
done this, it's not a likely scenario for your com- 
munity if you're seeking rural or semi-rural land, 
since you're probably planning a higher density 
than such properties are normally zoned for. It's 
more than likely your group will be dealing with 
non-ideal zoning. Some things to keep in mind: 

1. Often the goals and policies of a General Plan 
don't match the current zoning map. Newly 
enacted zoning regulations may not be dis- 
tributed, understood, or implemented yet, or 
local officials may not agree on them. 

Experienced real estate investors advise buyers 
not to believe anything they read in a General 
Plan or see on a zoning map, but get an official 
opinion about a property's zoning from local 
planning or elected officials before buying the 
property. Keep in mind too, that different 
public officials can interpret their documents 
differently, and in all sincerity may tell you 
completely different things. To protect your- 
selves later, get their opinions in writing. 
2. You can research the history of a property at 
the County Courthouse or City Hall to see if 
it had a previous use permit that allowed 
more density than is currently allowed. 


Sometimes a prior use carries weight with 
current officials. Would it have more density 
if it were an educational center? Was permis- 
sion ever given for a subdivision? Was it ever 
zoned agricultural, and hence now be per- 
mitted additional people if they were agricul- 
tural workers? (And would organic gardeners 
qualify as agricultural workers?) 
3. You can sometimes buy property with an 
expired conditional use permit, or one the 
county decided to discontinue, and work to 
get it reinstated. 

Gambling with Former Use Permits 

In the more liberal zoning atmosphere of the 
1970s, the Farallones Institute secured an educa- 
tional use permit allowing up to 50 permanent 
residents and up to 150 at a time for workshops 
and classes. When Sowing Circle/OAEC 
founders researched the property local officials 
said the permit would remain in effect for only 
three more years to give the county time to decide 
whether or not the new owners' use would war- 
rant continuing the permit. The founders thought 
this was a reasonable gamble because they 
planned on hosting the same kinds of educational 
events the previous owners had, and they bought 
the property without knowing the outcome. 
Three years later the officials lowered the density 
to 26 permanent residents, with up to 50 allowed 
for courses and workshops, but granted the use 
permanently as what's called a "nonconforming 
use." (A nonconforming use is one the county or 
city allows as an exception to the rest of the zon- 
ing in an area, because it was established before 
current zoning use for that area took effect.) 

Sometimes, hiring professionals such as a 
private land-use planner and/or real estate 
lawyer can make all the difference in keeping or 
restoring a use permit that's in question. 

One of the first things Kenneth Mahaffey 
and Dianne Brause did before buying the Lost 
Valley property was to research the status of its 
former conditional use permit (called a "special 
use permit" in their county) to see if it could be 
re-established as a nonconforming use. They 
intended Lost Valley to be a community of 20 or 
so, with hundreds of conference and workshop 
participants yearly. They had learned that in the 
early 1970s, the previous owners received an 
extremely liberal conditional use permit for 
hosting public events — up to 50 full-time resi- 
dents and up to 3,000 visitors over a year's peri- 
od, as well as permission to build 25 buildings. 
While conditional use permits are usually 
attached to the property deed and follow from 
owner to owner, in this case its was discontinued 
because the former owners lost title when the 
property was seized by the IRS. The county had 
certain requirements for use permits to remain 
valid, including that there should be no gap 
between owners for longer than 12 months, and 
the property's density had reverted to the county 
standard — one household on a parcel that size, 
or up to five unrelated adults if they were doing 

Kenneth and Dianne learned that everyone 
who had wanted to buy the property before 
them had failed to secure the continuation of 
the conditional use permit. But as an experi- 
enced real estate investor, Kenneth knew you 
could sometimes challenge a county in zoning 
matters, and prove that a permit should be rein- 
stated. So, even though buying the property 
with no certainty about the use permit was an 
enormous gamble, they did it anyway. 
(Experienced founders do not recommend this, 
since your group could be stuck with an expen- 
sive property you can't use. Kenneth and 
Dianne's back-up plan, in case they didn't get 


the permit, was for Kenneth to use the property 
as a family home.) 

The two hired as their advocates a private 
land-use planner who'd formerly been employed 
by the county planning department, and a real 
estate lawyer familiar with the property. Neither 
had ever lost a case, and said they weren't plan- 
ning to lose this one. The advocates said that, 
probably in three of four months, the county 
would cite them for having too many people. To 
prepare for it, they offered the following advice: 

1. Don't ask the county directly if they're aware 
of the expired use permit, but test their 
knowledge of it by requesting something 
small and innocuous instead. This they did, 
asking if they could put a mobile home on 
the land, and learned that the county was 
indeed aware of the issue. 

2. Don't approach the county asking for a non- 
conforming use, since the burden of proof 
would then be on Lost Valley to demonstrate 
that the county's ordinance about the 
required year of continuous use was invalid. 

3. Wait for the county to approach the commu- 
nity, which meant the county would have the 
burden of proof to demonstrate that no sim- 
ilar-use activities had occurred during the 13 
months between owners. 

4. Lost Valley must gather documents to 
demonstrate to the county that the commu- 
nity's intended educational uses of the prop- 
erty would be similar enough to the previous 
owners' to match the terms of the former 
conditional use permit, and that those same 
kinds of uses had occurred on the property in 
the 13-month period between their owner- 
ship and the former owners'. Fortunately, the 
property's caretakers had hosted a Greens 
meeting, a men's sweat lodge, and several 

other minor events on the land which could 
be construed as public events. 
5. Be as open and public as possible about their 
conference center plans and activities, since, 
after all, this demonstrated they were contin- 
uing to host events that benefited others and 
involved guests on the land, just as the previ- 
ous owners had. 

This is just what they did, holding large pub- 
lic conferences, workshops, and classes, as well as 
opening a youth hostel. They always made sure 
to collect and pay the county's required room tax 
on overnight guests. The county accepted their 
tax payments — a tacit implication of approval 
the group could use in their documentation. A 
year after they'd arrived there was wave of local 
media coverage of their activities, which also 
served to publicly document their use of the 
property for educational and public activities. 
Finally, two years after the land purchase, the 
county contacted them, and nine months later, 
after reviewing Lost Valley's excellent records of 
the former caretakers' public events and their 
own public events, the county granted them 
nonconforming use status. Up to 35 families or 
160 people total could live there year-round, 
with up to 3,000 total visitors over a year, and 
they could build more buildings. The gamble 
had paid off. 

Seeking a Zoning Exception 

If your group finds property that looks promis- 
ing but doesn't allow as much density as you 
want, you'll need to apply for a zoning variance 
or conditional use permit (depending on the 
terms used in the area). If your community plans 
include a retreat center, guest facilities, a healing 
center, or other type of service facility, you'll need 
to apply for a conditional use permit, unless the 


property you're considering already has one. And 
if you're planning to buy land and subdivide it so 
that members will hold title to their individual 
lots or housing units, you'll need to comply with 
the state, county or city's subdivision ordinances, 
including approval of a plat map for your pro- 
posed development, and assurance that you'll 
build all the required roads, etc. Depending on 
the location, any of these will most likely require 
a year-long process costing $10,000 to $20,000 
or more in permit fees, tests, surveys, and con- 
sultants (and probably far more for a subdivi- 
sion), and involve at least one public hearing. 
And you won't know until the end of the process 
whether your application will be approved. Like 
Meadowdance founders, you may want to con- 
sider funds like this "the cost of doing business," 
and be willing to walk away from it if the prop- 
erty doesn't work out. 

Depending on the state and the area, apply- 
ing for a conditional use or noncomforming use 
permit, and possibly getting permission to subdi- 
vide, can require various tests and permits. These 
can include one or more of the following: 

1. An archaeological survey to make sure the 
building and development sites don't contain 

2. A traffic study to determine the impact of 
increased traffic on access roads. 

3. A test well or wells to find out if there would 
be enough water for the proposed project. 

4. A septic and soils survey to discover whether 
the property's soils are compatible with large- 
scale septic systems. 

5. An Environmental Impact Report to deter- 
mine the effects of the proposed use on 
wildlife, wetlands, or forests. 

6. A study to find out whether road width, 
grades, surfacing, and water storage would 
meet fire codes. 

7. A report by the local building department 
about whether the property's existing build- 
ings meet health and safety standards. 

As we've seen, county officials and neighbors 
tend to consider use permit applications more 
favorably when the property was previously used 
to serve the public. "It's becoming increasingly 
difficult to develop a public facility from scratch 
on property with no public use history or zon- 
ing," observes Stephen Brown, cofounder of 
Shenoa Retreat and Conference Center in 

The specific process of getting approval for 
and subdividing your property is considerably 
more complex and expensive than simply getting 
a zoning variance or a use permit. As such, it's 
beyond the scope of this book, but there are 
plenty of resources for communities seeking to 

Your first step in any of these scenarios is to 
write up an outline of what you have in mind. 
Visit with an official in the planning depart- 
ment, a planning commissioner, or county super- 
visor, or if the property is in a municipality, a city 
council member, to see whether your proposed 
exception is likely to be accepted. Ask their 
advice for how you can adjust your proposal to 
help meet the goals of the General Plan, and for 
the names of any other local experts you might 
consult. Meeting as many zoning officials as you 
can and seeking their advice far in advance of 
your public hearing is, along with meeting the 
neighbors, the best thing you can do to influence 
a positive outcome. At the public hearing you 
won't be an unknown group out of the blue, but 
one whose interests and goals are familiar to 
them, and whose members have already demon- 
strated respect for their authority and for the 
goals of their General Plan. They might just 


become the best allies your project could have. 
(With one exception — if the change you're 
seeking would actually change the zoning law 
itself, in many states you're not allowed to meet 
with any officials beforehand.) 

Negotiating for What You Want 

You can negotiate with the county to try to get 
what you want. In 1991, when Sharingwood 
community in Snohomish, Washington decided 
to become a cohousing community they wanted 
a narrow pedestrian pathway to connect their 
group of homes and encircle their central com- 
mons. The community had legally transformed 
their form of private and shared land ownership 
to that of a condominium association, and when 
they applied for a building permit to build their 
common house, the county said their new status 
required that they couldn't have a pedestrian 
pathway but must build a regular city street with 
plenty of room for parking. Sharingwood mem- 
bers negotiated, saying it would alter their com- 
munity's safe and friendly atmosphere to have a 
wide street circling through it. So to get a nar- 
rower road they offered the county two conces- 
sions — they'd forbid street parking (visitors 
would park in a nearby field), and they'd allow 
speeds no higher than five miles per hour. The 
county agreed, and shaved four feet of width off 
the road requirement. Now Sharingwood has a 
rather thin asphalt road with three large speed 
bumps, which is used as a footpath, children's 
play area, everyone's basketball court, and very 
slow-driving car access for members. It's not a 
pedestrian pathway, but it's close. 

You can also negotiate a variance, condition- 
al use permit, or other kind of zoning exception 
by considering what you can offer in return, 
based on the policies and goals of the General 
Plan. Does it call for clustered housing, open 

space, or what it defines as "sustainable develop- 
ment?" Tell the officials how your community's 
planned development will do this, and use their 
terms, even their phrasing, from the General 
Plan. If your property is in an urban area, can 
you offer public parking, public open space, 
creekside access, or extension of any urban trails 
or bike paths? If it's rural, do you have a wildlife 
biologist willing to testify as to how your plan 
will protect a wildlife corridor? Can you protect 
an endangered wilderness, wetland, or species 
habitat, or preserve open space and views, or 
keep an area permanently devoted to agriculture? 
One legal device which allows you to do this is a 
conservation easement, which is an irrevocable 
use restriction attached to the deed and binding 
on all future owners. Another is a declaration of 
restriction, a use restriction which does the same 
but is revocable. (Some counties give property- 
tax reductions in exchange for conservation ease- 
ments that help land fit into their General Plan.) 
When Sowing Circle/OAEC founders were 
negotiating to preserve the high density of their 
property's educational use permit, they put their 
two locally famous hillside gardens into an 
organic easement, so that they and any future 
owners must keep the gardens organic forever. 
(See Chapter 16.) 

Again, hiring a private land-use planner 
and/or real estate lawyer to help, as Lost Valley 
did, can be invaluable. 

James Hamilton, cohousing resident and 
project manager of Stone Curves cohousing in 
Tucson, advises founders to remind local elected 
officials that members of an intentional commu- 
nity put so much time, energy, and heart into 
developing their project that they're likely to live 
there for many years and invest themselves in the 
neighborhood. This is highly desirable to elected 
officials, since, in our highly mobile society, in 


each election many people who once voted for 
these officials have moved away and the candi- 
dates must woo new voters. 

Zoning Exceptions, Neighbors, and 
Public Hearings 

Because the concerns of neighbors will most 
likely affect how local officials may respond to 
your request, you'll probably need to seek out 
neighbors, as the Meadowdance group did: lis- 
ten to their concerns, and make a good-faith 
effort to gather all reasonable information to 
answer their questions, and even modify your 
plans, if possible. 

Not all founders have known this. In the 
early 1990s, a group of meditators in northern 
California wanted to offer meditation retreats to 
their fellow meditators in the wider area. The 
group, which I'll call Valley Oaks Sangha, 
bought a five-acre rural property and renovated 
the house to accommodate retreat participants. 
They didn't seek the required conditional use 
permit for their periodic high-density use 
because they were afraid they might be turned 
down. So to call the least amount of attention to 
themselves, they interacted as little as possible 
with neighbors. Soon they realized they needed 
to build more dorm facilities, which required a 
building permit, which in turn required seeking 
approval for a conditional use permit and a pub- 
lic hearing. Again, to protect themselves from 
possible objections, community members said 
nothing to neighbors about their plans and were 
silent about the upcoming public hearing. At the 
hearing the county supervisors were quite willing 
to grant the conditional use permit and overlook 
past infractions, but not the neighbors, who had 
turned out in force. Although they would have 
had little objection to the use permit originally, 
they now vehemently opposed it, resenting the 

community for being so secretive and unfriendly, 
and for trying to slip the public hearing past 
them unnoticed. The supervisors bowed to pub- 
lic opinion and rejected the use permit. (Valley 
Oaks Sangha later established another center 

A similar fate befell a community I'll call 
High Mountain Meadow, whose founders want- 
ed to establish an educational center for spiritu- 
al and environmental practices on a former ranch 
in the Colorado Rockies. They needed their 
rancher neighbor to approve a request for higher 
density and clustered housing on one part of 
their property. Although their relationship was 
delicate — the ranchers were suspicious of envi- 
ronmentalists, and the founders didn't like the 
ranchers' target practice on coyotes and prairie 
dogs — they had reached an agreement. 
Workshop participants would park in town and 
carpool out to the site, drive slowly on the area's 
dirt roads to keep noise and dust to a minimum, 
and keep their workshops relatively quiet; the 
ranchers wouldn't shoot off rifles during work- 
shop weekends. 

One summer in their second year of opera- 
tion the founders rented their facilities to a 
group that led workshops on spiritual-emotion- 
al healing work that involved a lot of "express and 
release" yelling and screaming. While the group 
promised the founders they'd keep the noise of 
their workshop to a minimum, they got carried 
away, and soon the howls and yowls of long- 
buried childhood wounds went careening down 
the mountainside and bouncing off the cliffs. 
Three days of what was effective healing work 
for workshop participants was nothing but 
unearthly caterwauling to the ranchers. So, while 
the founders' conditional use application was 
backed by an inspired vision, an enviable cash- 
flow, and a committed group of members, at the 


zoning hearing the ranchers squashed it flat. 
High Mountain Meadow didn't get their use 
permit. (They succeeded with another plan sev- 
eral years later, however. ) 

In 1993, the four young Phoenix-based 
founders of a community I'll call Anasazi 
Ecovillage were all set to buy 147 acres of pinon 
and sagebrush in a remote county with few 
zoning restrictions and no building codes in the 
Four Corners area. Their property was near 
two towns — a hip tourist destination, and in 
the more remote county, an old-time ranching 
town. The founders mailed out a flyer describ- 
ing their plans to friends and acquaintances in 
the area, and posted a flyer in each town. 
Although the response was overwhelmingly 
positive from the tourist town, one county 
supervisor and several people from the ranching 
town called a meeting to express their alarm 
about the project. To them, the flyer's terms 
"composting toilets" and "constructed wetlands" 
conjured up visions of stench and unsanitary 
conditions that would lower their property val- 
ues. "Ecospiritual" meant the group probably 
worshipped rocks and trees. "Ecovillage" meant 
they were damned tree-huggers that would try 
to shut down the town's only industry, a plant 
that ground up aspen trees to make swamp 
cooler filters. At the meeting, the county super- 
visor said they could bring the group to its 
knees financially if the county insisted that the 
state's subdivision law applied to the project. 
This would require the founders to widen their 
access road to standard subdivision width, 
which would cost them between $35,000 and 
$500,000. "I know how we can stop em faster," 
vowed an irate rancher. "And I'll supply the 
kerosene!" Unwilling to deal with this level of 
prejudice and misinformation, the founders 
abandoned their plan. 

It doesn't have to be this way. In 1994 when 
few people had heard of cohousing, the first 
public hearing for a zoning variance was held for 
Greyrock Commons Cohousing in Fort Collins, 
Colorado. After the core group described the 
cohousing concept and presented the group's 
proposed site plan, neighbor after neighbor 
stood up and expressed fears about increased 
traffic, "big developers" coming in to build hous- 
es that would block views of the neighborhood's 
open meadow, and apprehension about a "snooty 
close-gated community" ruining the ambiance of 
their friendly family neighborhood. The City 
Council didn't grant the zoning variance, but 
scheduled a second public hearing several 
months later to give the Greyrock Commons 
founders time to meet with neighbors and see if 
they couldn't work something out. This they 
did, making appointments to visit and sending 
representatives door to door to meet their neigh- 
bors and listen to their concerns, answer their 
questions, and describe what the founders had 
in mind. By the time of their second public hear- 
ing, like Meadowdance, they'd won over most 
the neighbors and the City Council granted the 

A year later, after Greyrock Commons had 
become a neighborhood which local officials 
proudly showed off to visiting dignitaries, an 
actual "big developer" in Fort Collins made plans 
to turn a vacant ten-acre parcel adjacent to river- 
front park into a housing subdivision. The 
neighbors of the park wanted none of it, and sent 
a delegation to City Hall, saying if a develop- 
ment was going to come into their neighborhood 
and block their access to the park and the river, 
they'd rather it be that new kind of development 
"like they have over at Greyrock Commons." 
And that's just what they got. A new core group 
formed, and River Rock Commons cohousing 



Even if you don't need the support of local residents to 
change any zoning, you'll certainly want their support as 
neighbors and potential friends. The greater the contrast 
between your community culture and theirs — if they're 
farmers, ranchers, or other politically and religiously con- 
servative country folk — the more important this is. 

Successful community founders advise giving your 
neighbors every opportunity to learn that you're friendly 
hardworking, and respectful; that you pay your bills; that 
you treat your children well. Ask your neighbors' advice, 
find out how you can help them, get them to tell you 
about their farm or ranch operation and about local histo- 
ry. Join local civic endeavors — the Volunteer Fire 
Department, the Women's Auxiliary of the VFD, the 4-H 
club, community theater groups, friends of the library, the 
local hospice. Offer to feed and water their livestock and 
pets when they go on vacation. When they're planning a 
construction project, go over there with carpentry tools. 
When they're going to pour concrete, show up with shov- 
els. Don't preach to them about organic food or a vegetar- 
ian diet or what's wrong with the government. When they 
preach to you, listen graciously. If there's a fire or other 
local disaster, they'll be the best friends you have on Earth. 

In 1971, when the founders of The Farm community 
near Summertown, Tennessee arrived in a bus caravan from 
San Francisco, their distinctive hippie appearance triggered 
alarm and hostility in local residents. So the newcomers 
behaved as respectfully and responsibly as possible with 
neighbors and townspeople, and made sure their checks 
were sound and they paid debts promptly. Although com- 
munity members didn't smoke tobacco or eat beef, they 
helped neighbors bring in a tobacco harvest, and donated 
pulp from their soy dairy to help livestock-raising neighbors 
get through a rough winter. After a few years Farm members 
had earned such a good reputation in the area that rumor 
had it you could cash a check anywhere in those parts if 
you just wore tie-dye and had long hair. 

was built there instead — maybe the first time 
ever that folks in mainstream America clamored 
to have an intentional community move in next 

If your group needs a zoning variance, condi- 
tional use permit, or other kind of exception to 
zoning regulations before you buy your proper- 
ty, you will also need to meet and listen to your 
future neighbors. Don't send your group's most 
serious or businesslike members; send your 
warmest and most engaging. Follow Stephen 
Covey's advice and "Seek first to understand, 
rather than to be understood." First ask what the 
neighbors might want for the field next door 
before you lay your community rap on them. 
Don't bombard them with information or scare 
them off with environmental or sustainability 
jargon. Use the word "community" sparingly if at 
all, and avoid altogether terms such as "inten- 
tional community," "spiritual," "sustainable," 
"ecospiritual," or'ecovillage." It may be far better 
to simply say you're a group of families and indi- 
viduals who want to make life easier and more 
enjoyable by sharing some resources and creat- 
ing a friendly, wholesome neighborhood where 
everyone knows and helps one another, and 
where children and elders are safe again, like in 
your grandfather's day. If you're environmentally 
oriented and have sustainability goals (depend- 
ing on what you're planning), you could say you 
plan to heat your homes partly by the sun's heat, 
or save money by generating your own power 
instead of paying a big company for it, or grow 
your own vegetables like your grandmother did. 
How could any old-time rancher, conservative 
executive, or Fundamentalist believer object to 
that? (But if your group is also into vegan diets, 
raw foods, meditation, emotional healing, 
shared parenting, cross-breast feeding, shared 
love partners, or channeling archangels, aliens, 


or entities from the Causal Plane — please keep 
it to yourself!) 

Keep in mind that any local media coverage 
could be a double-edged sword. A sympathetic 
reporter with similar visions and values can help 
your case; but if the reporter (or the editor) is 
suspicious, ill-informed, or simply prejudiced 
against "communes/' an article with snide com- 
parisons or inaccurate information can negative- 
ly influence local citizens, future neighbors, 
and/or the elected officials who'll consider your 
request for a zoning exception. To benefit from 
any potential media coverage and mitigate 
against the effects of a potential negative spin, 
prepare a press release describing what you hope 
to do and hand it to any reporter who seeks you 
out. Keep it short and use your Vision 
Statement in the first paragraph. Don't write a 
self-congratulatory PR puff piece, but a matter- 
of-fact article in classic newspaper style. (If you 
don't have a group member who knows how to 
write newspaper style, hire someone who can do 
this for you — it's money well spent. ) 

When it's time for your public hearing, be 
prepared for the fact that, as in Meadowdance's 
case, some of the deciding officials can be inex- 
plicably for or against a project, or officials who 
formerly offered support can suddenly change 
their minds for no reason you can fathom. Even 
if you've done everything you could to stack the 
deck in your favor — meeting officials and 
neighbors beforehand, getting opinions in writ- 
ing, and hiring a land-use planner — you could 
still be turned down. If this happens, remember 
that, like Meadowdance, Valley Oaks Sangha, 
and High Mountain Meadow, a community can 
still follow their dream if the first property they 
wanted to buy, or the first zoning exception they 
tried for, didn't work out. 

In Chapter 12 we'll look at the many ways you 
can finance your community property. 

^Chapter 1 2^ 

Financing Your Property 
(Loans You Can Live With) 

WHEN BUYING PROPERTY for a communi- 
ty, it's clearly more advantageous not to 
borrow money at all but to pay cash, owe noth- 
ing, and be done with it, as Hank Obermeyer 
did with Mariposa Grove. 

The major disadvantages of borrowing 
money to buy property are risking its loss if you 
can't make the payments, and the cost of interest. 
Interest is like rent. If you rent an apartment 
you're actually "borrowing" its use from the land- 
lord. If you rent it for $1,000 a month, after a 
year you've paid $12,000. If you live there 10 
years, you've paid $120,000. If you borrow 
money you're "renting" its use for some period of 
time, and the interest payments are the rent. 
Depending on the interest rate and the length of 
payback time, you'll pay considerably more than 
the purchase price when you include the interest. 
You can figure this out in advance by looking up 
tables of principal amounts, interest rates, and 
payback times in an amortization loan schedule 
book, available at office supply stores. 

But since few forming-community groups 
can afford to buy community property with 
donations of cash from personal assets, borrow 
we must. In this chapter we'll look at how per- 

sonal loans, owner-financing, and bank financing 
apply to communities in which the property is 
not subdivided and members will not have title 
to individual lots or housing units. 

(A good resource for financing and develop- 
ing community property in which members will 
hold individual title is Chris Hanson's The 
Cohousing Handbook. We'll touch on this briefly 
in "Drawing on the Cohousing Model" later in 
this chapter.) 

About "Renting Money" — What You 
Should Know 

The combined borrowing power of your group 
means you can theoretically borrow money to 
buy your property as well as for a contingency 
fund for making payments, development (which 
can include repairs, renovations, and new con- 
struction), and land development. (Some banks 
may discount your borrowing power, reducing it 
by 10 to 20 percent, because of the inconvenience 
of dealing with the net worth statements and 
credit reports of a whole group.) 

Banks and most owner-financers will want 
all group members to sign the loan repayment 
guarantee, along with anyone else willing to 



co-sign, such as family members and friends. 
While many people co- signing the loan helps 
your group increase its borrowing power, it's a 
double-edged sword. If for some reason you can't 
make the payments for a few months, banks (and 
most owner-financers) will repossess your prop- 
erty and sell it to get their money back. If they 
can't sell the property at a high enough price to 
repay their loan, they'll go after the assets of 
everyone who's co- signed the loan to recover the 
loss. It won't matter if you've paid 90 or 95 per- 
cent of the loan before missing a few payments. 
Banks (and some owner-financers) will still 
repossess your property; in fact, it's more lucra- 
tive for banks to repossess your property when 
it's almost paid off. 

Here are some tips for borrowing money. 

1. Know your group's borrowing power ahead 
of time. As discussed earlier, you should have 
figured out your group's potential borrowing 
power before you began the land search. This 
will help you determine whether your 
desired property is within the means of your 
borrowing power. 

2. Know each other's credit rating ahead of 
time. You'll need to know about each other 
as credit risks. Ideally, you got credit reports 
for group members intending to be co-sign- 
ers on a loan before looking for land. Look at 
the reports as a group and learn whether any- 
one has bad credit. If so, arrange for that per- 
son to re-establish or improve their credit 
before you seek a bank loan. If that's not pos- 
sible, don't have that person co-sign the loan. 
Perhaps he or she could contribute to the 
group's cash needs by arranging a small pri- 
vate unsecured loan, which that member 
pays off personally. 

3. Get the property appraised ahead of time. 

The amount you offer on the property will be 
based on its current market value, your 
assessment of the needs and circumstances of 
the seller, and how much you estimate you'll 
need to spend on any repairs, renovations, or 
further development. Hire a local appraiser 
to get the current market value of the proper- 
ty before you make an offer on it (unless 
you're already convinced of its value), and 
before applying for a loan. You'll want to 
know what a reasonable purchase offer 
would be, given the current market values in 
the area, and knowing that will give you a 
better idea of what an owner-financer or 
bank would consider a reasonable amount to 
loan you. Bob Watzke suggests that if there's 
a chance you'll seek a bank loan, use the 
appraiser your bank usually works with. Ask 
them who they use; they'll tell you. 

Since the bank will arrange an appraiser 
anyway, why pay again for the same service? 
In order to get the highest loan amount (since 
banks will make a loan based on a percentage 
of the property's value), you'll want the prop- 
erty appraised at the upper limits of its cur- 
rent market value. You have the best chance of 
this if you know local market values, get your 
appraisal ahead of time, and pay the apprais- 
er yourself. Also, if you already have an 
appraisal, instead of charging you a second 
appraisal fee, the bank may charge you no 
more than a minimal "recertification fee" — 
10 to 20 percent of the original appraisal fee. 

"Imagine how confirming it could be to 
the bank when they see that your appraisal 
supports your requested loan," says Bob, "and 
the signature on the bottom is one of it own 
appraisers." The bank will then have market- 
ing data and an appraisal of your intended 



The amount of money you'll need to renovate or develop 
your property will depend on whether you're buying raw 
land, developed property, or a fully-developed turn-key 
property, and whether you'll do simple repairs, minor to 
major remodeling, or begin at square one with roads, 
utilities, and buildings. It will also depend on how many 
members you have, how much money you can raise, and 
how long you're willing to wait for your community to 
function as you've envisioned. 

Lost Valley raised $100,000 to buy their turn-key 
property and another $100,000 to repair and renovate it. 
Sowing Circle/OAEC raised $150,000 for the down pay- 
ment on their turn-key property and $55,000 for repairs 
and new construction. 

Hank Obermeyer paid $485,000 for the Mariposa 
Grove property, and by the time repairs and renovation 
are complete, will have spent at least $200,000 more. 

Buying raw land is quite different. Dancing Rabbit 
raised $190,000 for their land and $35,000 for their con- 
tingency fee and first expenses of physical infrastructure. 
Earthaven raised $128,000 as a down payment for their 
raw land, and an initial $22,000 for their first develop- 
ment expenses. Again, the cohousing model is a bit dif- 
ferent; cohousers who buy raw land develop it all at 
once and then move in. 

At both Lost Valley and Sowing Circle/OAEC, once 
the founders had spent their initial development fund, 
they were able to live on their property and begin their 
educational center businesses. And while additional 
income over the years has been spent on further renova- 
tion and new construction, most of it was completed 
early on. Mariposa Grove's renovation will be finished 
three years after purchase. At Dancing Rabbit and 
Earthaven, income from new members adds to the 
development process which will take many years to 

property that represents and supports the 
amount of your loan request. 

4. Don't get loans with penalties for early 
repayment, if at all possible. 

5. Seek only fixed-rate loans. Bob advises get- 
ting 15 to 30-year, fully amortized mortgages 
with fixed interest rates, and fixed mortgage 
payments. If a land purchase deal is so attrac- 
tive that you've got to accept a variable rate 
mortgage, then do it — but refinance the 
loan as soon as possible to a fixed rate and 
fixed term mortgage. 

6. Negotiate for no payments or interest-only 
payments for the first few years. If you're 
founding your community with fewer people 
than you ultimately plan to have, then you 
won't have as much money for monthly or 
quarterly payments as you will later, when 
more people have joined you. If at all possible 
do as Lost Valley, Dancing Rabbit, and 
Sowing Circle/OAEC did, and negotiate for 
no payments or interest- only payments for 
the first three to five years. 

7. Establish a contingency fund. Bob Watzke 
and other real estate investors strongly advise 
that you create a contingency fund for times 
when you can't make your land payment 
through your normal means. "The last time 
in the world that you want to seek money 
from a lender is when you need it — espe- 
cially when you're behind in your payments," 
Bob says. "From your preliminary market 
research, find out how much you are likely to 
need before you start looking for property. 
Establish a purchase plan and a budget that 
provides enough money to buy the property, 
and enough money to operate with, plus a 
contingency reserve; say, six to 12 months' 
cash reserves to cover both fixed and variable 
operating expenses for that period." 


Private Financing 

Lost Valley, Dancing Rabbit, and Mariposa 
Grove founders used their own funds or private 
loans and paid the sellers cash to buy their prop- 
erties. Kenneth Mahaffey of Lost Valley and 
Hank Obermeyer of Mariposa Grove paid the 
whole purchase price from personal assets. 
Dancing Rabbit's founders raised two personal 
loans from within their own membership, one 
from a founders' family, and another from col- 
leagues in the communities movement. 
Earthaven's founders raised money mostly from 
within their membership to pay off their owner- 
financers and hold their own internal mortgage. 
(For information on creating your own "shoe 
box" bank, as Earthaven did, see E.E 
Schumacher Society in Resources.) 

The obvious advantage of borrowing from 
founders, family, and friends instead of banks or 
owner-financers is that no money is owed to out- 
siders. If the new community has a financial short- 
fall and can't make payments for a few months or 
a year or so, there is far less danger of foreclosure. 
Presumably founders, family, or friends who 
loaned the money would be willing to wait much 
longer before it became necessary to ask for repay- 
ment or force the sale of the property. 

When approaching community founders, 
friends, and family members for a loan, offer 
them what private lenders usually need to see — 
a clearly written, well-presented explanation of 
your community's vision and goals, a strategic 
plan for how you'll accomplish those goals and 
your intended timeline, and how you'll manage 
and care for your property. Create an agreement, 
such as a promissory note, that covers all the 
standard aspects of a loan. 

• What is the amount of the loan? 

• What is the length of the loan? 

• What is the interest rate and terms of 
repayment? Will payments be monthly or 
quarterly? Is the interest to accrue and 
become due along with the principal? Is 
the interest simple or compounded? 

• Will the money be secured by real estate 
or a promissory note with a personal 
guarantee from your group? Will you 
place a lien on the deed? If the loan is 
secured by real property or other assets, is 
there sufficient equity to guarantee the 

• If the note is unsecured, how will your 
group repay the loan if the community 
isn't successfully created as planned? 

• Have you notarized the loan and/or 
recorded it with the county? 

• If there's more than one lender, how have 
you arranged that each lender be repaid 
— proportionally, or first one, then 

Here's where your real estate attorney can 
serve you again. Dancing Rabbit's founders 
wanted to make sure that each of their three pri- 
vate loans were in fact mortgages, so the lawyer 
not only recorded the loans with the county, but 
created the wording in the promissory notes and 
placed liens on the deed showing that the loans 
were secured with 9/19ths, 5/19ths, and 
5/19ths respectively of any proceeds of the sale 
of the property if the community were to dis- 

When One Member Buys the Property 

Sometimes the best way — or even the only way 
— for a group to acquire property is for one or 
two members who can afford to do so to just up 
and buy it. Every community profiled in this 


book that paid cash for their property did so 
because one or two founders had the money. The 
clear advantage here is that the person with 
means secures the property immediately freeing 
the group from spending months trying to raise 
the money while another buyer with ready cash 
snatches it off the market. The founder buying 
the land functions like a bank financing the 
property for the group at a presumably reason- 
able rate of interest and being reimbursed over 
time until the loan is paid back. 

This is what Kenneth Mahaffey and Lost 
Valley did, with members reimbursing his 
$100,000 purchase loan and $100,000 develop- 
ment loan over the years through income from 
the conference center business, and later by refi- 
nancing the property. And Hank Obermeyer 
will be reimbursed all but his own ownership 
share when the Mariposa Grove property is refi- 
nanced as a limited equity housing co-op. 
Dancing Rabbit is paying off its founder, family, 
and friend lenders quarterly, through rents col- 
lected by the increasing numbers of members liv- 
ing on the land. 

Protecting Your Sole Owner with a 
Triple Net Lease 

Many founders who could afford to buy the 
property for their forming community group 
hesitate to do so because they're wary of the 
potential problems inherent in sole ownership. 
For example, if the founder buying the property 
were to make all decisions affecting its property 
value (since he or she took a personal financial 
risk), other members would resent the power 
imbalance — a sure set-up for structural con- 
flict. On the other hand, if decisions affecting 
property value were made by the whole group, 
the founder who bought it could resent it since 
his or her equity could be diminished by people 

who'd risked nothing. The sole property owner 
would also be liable for any lawsuits or damages 
and financially responsible for maintenance, 
taxes, and insurance, with no legal recourse to 
induce others to pay a share of these expenses if 
there were a dispute. 

If a forming community finds a desirable 
property and one or two of them could buy it, 
the group could bypass these problems with a 
Triple Net Lease (also called a Net Lease). This 
is a device that spells out the rights and respon- 
sibilities of landlord and tenant in commercial 
space rentals. However, it can also be used to 
protect a sole property owner from undue 
financial or legal burdens and spread the 
responsibilities of property ownership fairly 
throughout the group. A community can use a 
Triple Net Lease as a legally binding document 
between the person who buys the property (the 
Lessor) and all the other community members 
(the Lessees). It can declare, for example, that 
certain named community members (including 
but not limited to the property owner) have cer- 
tain property use rights and restrictions, and 
are equally responsible for paying the cost of 
maintenance, utilities, taxes, and insurance. It 
can indemnify the property owner from sole 
responsibility for these as well as from any 
other legal or financial liabilities (although the 
legal entity through which the group buys the 
property should offer liability protection as 
well). A Triple Net Lease can include clauses 
that cover any kinds of rights and responsibili- 
ties unique to intentional communities but not 
found in commercial property landlord/tenant 
issues, and stipulate any default scenarios or 
remedies in the event anyone violates the terms 
of the lease. A lawyer familiar with both com- 
mercial real estate law and a group's values and 
goals can check over its proposed Triple Net 


Lease document to make sure it thoroughly 
protects the property owner as well as all com- 
munity members. 

Owner Financing 

In owner-financing, the seller is willing to forego 
receiving the entire sale price at once, and instead 
will receive a down payment and earn interest on 
the balance due. Normally the seller will want 25 
to 30 percent down, monthly payments, and 
interest at a negotiated rate. The terms could be 
equal to, or greater than what a bank would 
charge. Rural properties are commonly financed 
this way. 

But owner-financing can differ as widely as 
the circumstances of the sellers themselves. For 
example, Sowing Circle/OAEC had a reason- 
able down payment of 17.5 percent of the pur- 
chase price and generous terms (although, if you 
recall, the owner-financer demanded triple the 
down payment five days before closing). 
Earthaven's founders paid 32.5 percent of the 
purchase price and had to deal with unusually 
difficult owner-financing terms. 

In contrast, the founders of Abundant 
Dawn had a far more straightforward owner- 
financing arrangement. In 1996 they found 90 
acres of fields and woods in a rural county in 
southwestern Virginia for $130,000. The prop- 
erty was in a U-shaped bend of a river, with gen- 
tly rolling wooded hills and meadows, a road, an 
old farmhouse, a cabin, and an open-sided barn. 
The owner was willing to take $13,000 or 10 
percent down, and owner-finance a 15-year 
mortgage at 8.3 percent interest. Abundant 
Dawn's seven founders each contributed slightly 
more than $1,800 apiece for the $13,000 down 

If your group plans to seek owner-financing, 
take the same steps you would as if you were 

seeking financing from a bank and get an 
appraisal of the property before you make an 
offer. (In which case, unlike when seeking a loan, 
you'll want an appraisal at the lower end of the 
value range for the property's current market 
value.) Owner-financers will probably want to 
see each of your group member's net worth state- 
ments and credit reports just as a bank would. 

If you're buying developed property and plan 
to improve it anyway, you might do as Sowing 
Circle/OAEC's founders did and negotiate for a 
lower down payment or better terms in exchange 
for a contract promising to do certain repairs and 
improvements on the buildings and infrastruc- 
ture within a certain period of purchase, backed 
up with a business plan showing how much 
money you'd use for that purpose and where 
you'd get it. This assures the owner-financers 
that the property value will increase with your 
ownership and lowers their risk, since if your 
group defaults on payments they would proba- 
bly repossess a property with a higher market 
value than it had before. 

If you're bidding on developed property and 
you suspect your offer may be less than other 
bidders, you can use the same principle. Remind 
the owners that it's not just money they'll need, 
but many people on site most of the time to 
maintain and protect the property, which is 
something your group uniquely can offer. 

Your real estate attorney should see all docu- 
ments relevant to the property to make sure any 
note to the previous owners has been paid off, 
and that the seller has the right to sell the prop- 
erty without paying the note off first. You'll need 
a boundary survey, title search, and title insur- 
ance. Don't skip these in an attempt to save 
money. The owner could have made an honest 
mistake, and you'd have to live with it for the rest 
of your community life. 



Let's say your group has few assets and little to no bor- 
rowing power. You can still do it. Community activist 
Rob Sandelin heard the following story from a com- 
munity founder he met at a shared campsite. 

In the early 1980s this man and his friends 
dreamed of creating a community in rural Oregon, but 
none of them had any money. They all had jobs of one 
kind or another, but each household was only meeting 
its expenses, not saving anything, and the group 
couldn't imagine coming up with enough money to 
buy land and start a community from scratch. 

Then they had a very simple idea: Why not all 
move in together, and use the amount they'll save by 
sharing expenses as a starting stake? They drew up a 
simple financial agreement saying they'd put the 
money they saved every month by sharing rent, food, 
utilities and other household expenses into a savings 
account. Although each household could withdraw 
their share of the money if they decided to leave, in 
time, their accumulated savings would be their stake 
to buy property in the country. 

They found a large rental house in their small 
Oregon town, remodeled the garage as a kids' dorm 
and play area, and took the plunge — eight adults and 
four children all moved in together. They saved money 

by buying food and household items in bulk, and by 
splitting rent and other living expenses. They quickly 
discovered that they really only needed three to four 
cars between them, so they sold their extra four cars 
and put that money into the account as well. While 
they learned many lessons about how to live together 
as a community, they managed to put away a little 
over $2000 a month. To their surprise and delight, in 
two years they had accumulated $50,000. 

However, by that time their vision had changed, 
and they decided they liked living in their small town. 
So they formed a legal entity and bought a large 
home. They remodeled it to fit their needs and turned 
the yard into a large organic garden with chickens and 
two milking goats. 

The amount they owed on the house was low 
enough that after seven years they were able to pay off 
the mortgage. Their friends all thought they had a great 
thing going, so when one of the families moved out, 
two others bought in as new members. The commu- 
nity continued sharing resources and saving money 
and bought an RV and a boat, and even took vacations 

Not a bad life for folks who started off with nothing! 

Bank Financing 

Bank financing (meaning both banks and other 
commercial lenders), is probably the last choice of 
most forming community groups, for two rea- 
sons. The development plans of most communi- 
ties don't meet most banks' criteria for loans. 
Further, if your property will be owned as a non- 
profit, keep in mind that most banks prefer to 
loan to for-profit legal entities such as corpora- 
tions or LLCs. And, unlike private lenders 

friendly to the community, banks will repossess 
the property if the group can't make payments for 
a few months. Some founders, like Earthaven's, 
also didn't want bank financing because they 
intended to demonstrate workable alternatives to 
conventional development, including a sustain- 
able, home-grown financing method. 

Banks don't often want to loan to intentional 
community groups, as they're wary of financing 
non-standard or alternative development. Banks 


evaluate a loan application with the possibility 
that they may have to repossess the property to 
get their loan money back, so they want proper- 
ty that's attractive to the average home buyer and 
thus simple and easy to resell. This doesn't usu- 
ally include projects with several houses on one 
unsubdivided property natural building tech- 
niques, off-grid energy composting toilets, and 
so on. The more sustainable, natural, and envi- 
ronmentally sustainable your planned develop- 
ment, the less likely a bank will be interested in 
it. An increasing number of banks are financing 
cohousing communities, however, which offer 
subdivided properties with individual housing 
units, and as such are considerably more mar- 
ketable as possible resales. To get bank financing 
therefore, most cohousing founders have created 
standard housing units with conventional con- 
struction and utilities. 

Meadowdance founders, however, were willing 
to get a bank loan for their intended property in 
Vermont. If private loans or owner-financing aren't 
an option, your group may want to do this too. 

Most people buying property allow the 
bank to determine the value of the property as 
well as the amount of the loan. This is less than 
ideal because you have little to no control over 
the process. But Bob Watzke and other experi- 
enced real estate investors strongly recommend 
you learn as much as possible about the prac- 
tices of local banks ahead of time. Approach 
them as fellow business people who already 
know the current market value of your desired 
property and the amount you want to borrow, 
and compare. "Here's the current market value 
of the property we want to buy; here's the 
amount we want to borrow; here's documenta- 
tion on exactly how we'll spend the loan; here's 
financial and credit information on each of us. 
Can we do business?" 

Unfortunately there's still another difficulty 
in seeking a bank loan. As the economy began 
declining in the late 1990s, many banks began 
having less money available for loans. This 
means that they increasingly depend on selling 
their loans to the secondary loan market — 
large-scale "bankers' banks" that buy whole 
groups of loans in bulk from local banks in order 
to free up money to loan out again. (One of the 
most well known is the Federal National 
Mortgage Association (FNMA), or 
FannieMae.) This way, local banks grant loans, 
keep them a short while, sell them to the second- 
ary loan market, and get their money back to 
loan again. Unlike previously, many banks are 
increasingly holding only short-term loans in 
their portfolios — those they can sell to the sec- 
ondary loan market — and hold fewer and fewer 
long-term loans. 

This results in two problems for community 
groups seeking loans. First, banks are reluctant 
to grant loans FNMA won't buy from them, 
such as small loans or loans for nonstandard 
properties, because it means it becomes a long- 
term loan; they have to hold the loan in their 
own portfolio until maturity (like a retail busi- 
ness having too much capital tied up in invento- 
ry instead of cash). It's likely that the kind of 
property a community will buy, and its plans for 
development, would require a loan that's too 
odd for the secondary loan market, and thus not 
a profitable enough loan for the local bank to 
grant. (By the way, if you think it's possible you'll 
seek a bank loan when you create your legal 
entity, don't state in your bylaws or other docu- 
ments that your decision-making method is 
consensus. FNMA doesn't accept consensus as 
a reasonable decision- making process, although 
they do accept super-majority voting of 66 or 75 


The second problem is that while banks used 
to tell a customer fairly soon that they'd 
approved a requested loan, increasingly they can 
only give preliminary approval while they wait 
for final approval from FNMA or another bank 
in the secondary loan market. The wait can be 
weeks or even months, although this varies in 
different areas of the country. It's possible that a 
community group can put an offer on property 
seek a bank loan, get preliminary approval, and 
find out the morning of the closing that the 
loan's not approved, with enormous negative 
consequences to both buyer and seller. This has 
happened to several people I know, and it hap- 
pened to me. If your group plans to seek a bank 
loan, make sure you get final approval of the loan 
— in writing — before making any plans to 
pack, move, quit your jobs, or otherwise change 
your lives. 

But let's assume a bank loan is your only 
option. Besides the basics — that you know your 
group's borrowing power, each other's credit rat- 
ings, and the appraised value of the property — 
here are additional steps Bob Watzke recom- 

1. Make sure your legal documents support 
getting a bank loan. Banks will want to see 
corporate Bylaws, an LLC's operating agree- 
ments, or other documents of your commu- 
nity's land-owning legal entity. They'll also 
want to examine documents relating to the 
property for details about property insur- 
ance, permission for zoning variances, 
approval of any plat maps for subdividing, 
and to make sure nothing would devalue 
your property or make it hard to later resell. 

2. Research local banks. Call a loan officer at 
each bank, and without specifically identify- 
ing the property or yourselves, find out 

whether the bank is making loans on the 
type of property you're interested in. Narrow 
it down to those banks making this kind of 
loan, and ask them about their loan rate and 
lending practices so you'll know the terms, 
policies, and procedures of each bank in 
advance. You'll especially want to know their 
preferred ratio of loan to property value. 
Request a copy of the annual report of these 
banks and view the profit and loss state- 
ments of the last year and the current year- 
to-date. Do they hold any long-term loans 
(that is, those unlikely to be resold to the 
secondary loan market)? If so that's good, 
since your requested loan may fall into this 
category. Examine the size and assets of each 
bank and learn who their directors and oper- 
ating officers are. With this information, 
choose the bank or banks you'd most like to 

3. Determine the amount you want to borrow 
and write up your own loan application. 

The amount you'll request will be based on: 

• the appraised property value 

• the bank's preferred loan-to-value ratio 

• how much cash your group has and its 
likely borrowing power 

• how much you'll want to spend on a 
down payment 

• how much you'll need for repairs and 
remodeling or development and new con- 

• how much you've chosen to set aside as a 
contingency fund. 

Bob Watzke recommends creating a one- 
page loan application document which describes 
to the bank the amount you want to borrow and 
the terms you want. He recommends using the 


name and street address or the rural route box of 
one of your founders, rather than a post office 
box, and not using your community name. Keep 
it brief using the terms in the sample loan 
request, below: Borrowers, Guarantors, Purpose 
of Loan, Loan Security, Length of Loan, and 
Means of Payback. 


Loan Request — $200,000 
May 25, 2004 

John Smith 

1563 Northwest Skipper Lane, 
Nathansville, ME 

BORROWERS: John Smith, Jane Smith, Susan 
Jones, Cindy Brown, Ned Brown 
GUARANTORS: John Smith, Jane Smith, Susan 
Jones, Cindy Brown, Ned Brown 
PURPOSE OF LOAN: To buy property for our 

LOAN SECURITY: Property at 3563 Ancient Forest 
Way, Old Town, ME 
LENGTH OF LOAN: 30 years 

MEANS OF PAYBACK: Monthly payments of 

The appraisal of your intended property 
should be at least equal to, and preferably greater 
than, your intended purchase price. Therefore 
the ratio of your loan request to the appraised 
value should be better than what the bank nor- 
mally requires, thereby adding to their margin of 
safety. This could make a substantial difference 
in the bank's giving final approval to your 

4. Create a document showing, in detail, how 
you plan to use the loan funds. If you're 
seeking funds in excess of the amount used to 
purchase the land, to do repairs or create 
improvements, describe the repairs, renova- 
tions, and new construction, the expected 
costs for each, and your timetable for doing 
them, as Sowing Circle/OAEC did. You 
might want to identify the contractors you 
plan to use. 

5. Collect resumes, net worth statements, and 
credit reports for each person co-signing 
the loan. The resumes should be brief and 
concise, describing each member's back- 
ground and accomplishments. Don't include 
your community's vision documents or 
description of purpose or goals, which could 
distract, annoy, or turn off the bankers. Tell 
them only what they want to know and no 
more, focusing on your individual strengths 
and your ability to pay back the loan. 

Use the bank's own form for your indi- 
vidual net worth statements. 

Find out which credit agency or agen- 
cies your chosen bank (or banks) use, and 
from each of these credit agencies get a 
copy of the credit records of each person 
who'll co- sign on the loan, as well as for the 
legal entity of your group. Why provide 
banks with credit information they'll pro- 
cure on their own? It will help you to know 
what credit agencies are going to say about 
you before the bank knows, which enables 
you to correct any discrepancies — since 
studies show that 20 percent or more of 
credit agencies' information about people 
can be false. 

6. Meet with the bank's executive vice presi- 
dent. Bob Watzke advises that you dress the 
way the way the loan officers in the bank 


dress, and ask to speak only with the executive 
vice president (or to the president in the 
absence of the executive vice president). If 
the executive vice president is busy, wait or 
come back. If a secretary wants to shunt you 
off to one of the bank's loan officers instead, 
insist in a nice way on making an appoint- 
ment with the executive vice president, say- 
ing it's about a business loan. 

What's the significance of the executive 
vice president? This is the person who runs 
the place, Bob says, and if he or she likes 
your group, you're in. (Remember to avoid 
terms such as "intentional community" and 
"ecovillage.") The executive vice president 
can usually poll the bank's loan committee or 
board of directors by phone. Besides, the 
authorized loan-commitment limits for the 
executive vice president or the president are 
almost always greater (if not unlimited) than 
those of other loan officers. And finally, if 
the executive vice president doesn't want to 
give you a loan, other loan officers aren't 
going to get it approved either. 

When you meet with the executive vice 
president give him or her: 

• Your one-page loan application docu- 

• The appraisal for your intended property 
and other comparables and marketing 
data that supports the appraisal 

• Documentation on how you'll repair or 
renovate the place (estimated costs, 
timetable, etc.), if applicable 

• Documents for your legal entity 

• Any approvals or permits from the coun- 
ty or municipality about zoning vari- 
ances, use permits, or subdivision 

• Brief resumes, net worth statements, and 
credit reports for everyone who'll co-sign 
on the loan. 

7. Negotiate simultaneously with more than 
one bank. Some banks dislike this, feeling 
they are being "shopped," and they are. 
Nevertheless, you are taking a position of 
power. A bank will know you're talking to 
other banks because they'll order credit 
records of each co-signer (even though you've 
given them copies), and they'll see in these 
records that other banks have recently sought 
credit information also. You might avoid this 
by applying to all banks on the same day and 
providing all the documentation that each 
bank needs. 

If you believe that these steps may be overly 
assertive, Bob Watzke points out that the your 
bank will most likely require that everyone in 
your group, and perhaps even your family mem- 
bers and/or officers of the companies any of you 
work for also become co- signers and guarantee 
the loan. This means if you were unable to con- 
tinue making payments for some reason and the 
bank couldn't recover its loan by selling your 
property, it could go after each community mem- 
ber's other assets, or those of anyone else co-sign- 
ing the loan. If you're risking this much to buy 
your property, you might as well tailor the loan 
to your specific needs and requirements. "Move 
as assertively as you feel comfortable without 
being overbearing," advises Bob. 

Drawing on the Cohousing Model 

Unlike the founders of most non-cohousing 
communities, cohousers sell housing units on 
the open market and build all their infrastruc- 
ture and housing at once. Some cohousing 


groups have developed their communities them- 
selves, or one or more members of their core 
group has served as their developer. But an 
increasing number of cohousing core groups 
have partnered with professional real estate 
developers, and such partnerships are often quite 
successful in acquiring, financing, and develop- 
ing their property. In exchange for a percentage 
of profit (usually relatively small, compared to 
the profit margins developers are used to), the 
developer supplies expertise, an entrepreneurial 
"sixth sense," some of the up-front money, an 
intimate knowledge of the local real estate mar- 
ket, and established working relationships with 
local planning officials and lenders, architects, 
engineers, and building contractors. Group 
members are actively involved in the design 
process and in marketing the project. 

If your group plans for members to hold title 
to individual lots or housing units (whether you 
plan to sell them on the open market or only to 
your own members), you might benefit from 
adapting some of these cohousing methods or 
working with a cohousing developer. (See 

Here is a brief overview of one version of this 
model, based on how groups have worked with 
Wonderland Hill Development Company in 
Boulder. The groups use three sources of financ- 
ing: funds raised by themselves and the developer, 
the construction loan, and individual mortgages. 

1. Funds raised by the group and the developer. 

Before the project breaks ground, the group rais- 
es at least ten percent, and sometimes consider- 
ably more, of the total cost of the finished project 
from assessments to themselves (with new people 
joining and contributing money at all stages of the 
process), sometimes supplemented by short-term 
loans from members of the group who might have 

more money, or from cohousing lenders. The 
developer usually also contributes funds, manage- 
ment, and overhead, and will be reimbursed later. 
These up-front funds are used for what 
Wonderland Hill calls the feasibility phase and 
pre- construction phase of their process. 

In the feasibility phase, the group creates site 
criteria, a preliminary budget, and a legal entity 
for buying the land (usually an LLC). Group 
members each get pre-qualified for mortgages on 
their individual housing units. The group choos- 
es a likely property, puts a 60- to 120-day option 
on it, and arranges a feasibility study to deter- 
mine whether this parcel of land will work for 
them. They pay for legal fees, promotional 
expenses, land-search costs, and the option fee. 

In the pre-construction phase, they conduct 
the feasibility study, pay for any tests, surveys, 
permits, and fees, and get any necessary zoning 
changes. If they decide to buy the property, they 
usually pay a certain amount down and arrange 
with the seller to pay the balance when they 
secure a construction loan, which can be up to a 
year later. Some sellers are willing to owner- 
finance this pre-construction phase. (If a seller 
requires all cash, the group usually doesn't pursue 
the property, but keeps looking until they find 
one whose seller could work with these terms.) 
The group hires architects and engineers to 
design the site plan and buildings specifically for 
this property, tests the market to see if the hous- 
ing units will sell at the projected prices per the 
current budget (and adjusts the prices and/or the 
budget accordingly); and advertises and promotes 
the project in order to attract additional group 
members and continue raising money. 

2. The construction loan. This loan pays off the 
seller and funds the "hard" development costs — 
grading the site, hooking up utilities, and build- 


ing roads and parking lots — as well as all con- 
struction costs for the common house and indi- 
vidual housing units. 

A construction loan is granted only after the 
group has acquired property and met all legal 
requirements to develop it, has produced profes- 
sionally-designed site and building plans, and 
has had everyone in the group pre- qualified for a 
mortgage. To get a construction loan the group 
approaches local banks with their developer 
partner."Banks are much more likely to give con- 
struction loans if a well-known local developer is 
leading the charge/' notes cohousing consultant 
Zev Paiss. 

3. Individual Mortgages. These are usually stan- 
dard 30-year mortgages at current interest rates, 
set into motion when construction is complete. 
Money from the individual mortgages pays off 
any private loans from individual group mem- 
bers or cohousing funding organizations, the 
developer's contribution (plus profit), and the 
construction loan. Money credited towards 
everyone's mortgages immediately pays off any 
private loans for the up-front costs and any 
money contributed by that developer plus a cer- 
tain amount of profit. Each individual member 
household now owes the bank the balance of the 
sale price of their own housing unit, which they 


As of this writing, cohousing is not cheap. As of 
2002, buy-in fees for studios to two-bedroom units 
and a share in the common infrastructure can range, 
depending on property values in the area, from the 
low $1 00,000s to the high $200,000s. Three-and 
four-bedroom units and detached homes with 
shared common infrastructure are often in the 
$300,000 to $400,000-plus range. And yet, while 
cohousing communities are usually the most 
expensive of all communities to join, since the 
housing units are individually owned, banks do 
give homeowners loans for them. And developer- 
assisted cohousing communities do get construc- 
tion loans. So, paradoxically, buying in to a cohous- 
ing community can sometimes — in terms of initial 
cash outlay anyway — be comparable to buying in 
to a non-cohousing community with shared land 
ownership, if you consider the cost of joining fees, 
site-lease fees, and building your own house with- 
out a bank loan. (See Chapter 14.) 

As of 2000, there was one Christian cohousing 
community in North America, at least two with straw- 
bale houses and off-grid power, and in the forming 
stages, a vegan cohousing group, a Jewish cohous- 
ing group, and a group exploring self-financed, 
exceptionally affordable buy-in costs. I believe that 
increasing numbers of forming communities with 
specific shared lifestyles or common purposes like 
these — with spiritual, religious, or ecological goals,- 
even aspiring ecovillages — will choose the cohous- 
ing model, rather than attempting the arduous, do- 
everything-yourself model we've seen in these 
pages. These forming community founders will pre- 
fer private ownership of their individual housing unit 
and shared ownership of common facilities, devel- 
oper involvement, and bank loans, rather than trying 
to leap the land-purchase, zoning, financing, and 
development hurdles entirely by themselves. The 
successes of the developer-assisted cohousing 
model might just be influencing forever the way we 
go about creating intentional communities. 


pay off like any other mortgage holder, through 
monthly payments of interest and principal. 

Other developers who partner with cohous- 
ing groups do it somewhat differently. Chris 
ScottHanson of Cohousing Resources recom- 
mends that the core group first acquire the prop- 
erty and get the site and buildings designed, then 
work with a developer to build it for them."The 
only reason to use a development partner," he 
says, "is to have the developer locate, acquire, and 
guarantee the construction loan financing." 

What about Grants and Donations? 

A common misconception among forming com- 
munity groups is that philanthropists or grant- 
making foundations would want to fund a 
group's land purchase, but this isn't usually the 
case. Wealthy people and foundations do, how- 
ever, often give money to groups or organiza- 
tions whose vision and mission for a better world 
matches their own, who have a demonstrated 
track record of accomplishing their goals, and 
whose principal players have shown through past 
accomplishments that they use money responsi- 
bly. If your group is just starting out and you 
have inspiring plans to benefit the environment 
or serve people or serve spiritual goals — but so 
far no history of accomplishments as a group — 
it's unlikely you could get grants or donations to 
help you get started. 

But by all means seek grants and donations 
after you've bought your property, have created a 
50 1(c) 3 non-profit for receiving tax-deductible 
donations, and have demonstrated for several 
years how you've benefited the environment or 
people, or achieved some service goals. Seek 
grants and donations for a particular project 
with a particular budget, timeline, and measura- 
ble goals. If you're an aspiring ecovillage, for 
example, and you want to teach others about 

alternative building construction or off-grid 
power, seek a grant for construction funds of 
your classroom teaching facility, or for work- 
scholarship funds, so that potential students can 
come as interns and offer free labor to help build 
the facility. If you get a grant or donations, spend 
the money the way you said you would, and keep 
accurate records. Send photos and the records of 
how you spent the money to your donors, with 
thanks. If your donors like what you've done, 
they may consider you for future funding 

Sowing Circle/OAEC got private loans of 
$40,000 and $25,000 with generous terms, 
because the founders were well-known to the 
philanthropist lenders, and were their colleagues 
in environmental activism. For getting grants, 
donations, and friendly loans, there's nothing like 
knowing your donors or lenders through shared 
activist work and having a good reputation with 
them already. 

Refinancing Your Property 

If you don't think it will be easy to live with your 
financing terms but it's the only way you can 
secure the property, consider how you might 
refinance it later. (Remember, avoid loans with 
early repayment penalties.) You can't live too 
long with high monthly payments, or with inter- 
est-only payments that will skyrocket as soon as 
you begin paying the principal, or with onerous 
terms and lenders who'd readily repossess. 
Earthaven, Lost Valley, and Sowing 
Circle/OAEC all successfully refinanced their 
properties and their members are now breathing 
easier because of it. 

We saw how Earthaven's founders refi- 
nanced the year after they bought the property, 
creating the EarthShares fund to pay off their 
owner-financers and get control of their entire 


property. It was a good thing they did. The 
founders overestimated the number of new 
members who'd join in the next few years, and 
the resulting cash shortfall meant that for the 

next three years they couldn't afford to both 
develop the property and make their interest- 
and-principal payments. So they made interest- 
only payments for three years in order to build 


Presumably, months before you seek financing, you'll 
have decided whether founders will make financial 
contributions toward the purchase, and what the rela- 
tionship will be of each member's contribution to basic 
aspects of community ownership and governance. Here 
are some points to consider in determining these issues: 

1. Will each founder be required to contribute an 
equal amount towards the purchase? 

2. Will founders be allowed to contribute different 
amounts toward the purchase? 

3. Will the amounts each founder contributes confer 
equity in the property, and is the amount of equity 
commensurate with the contribution? 

4. Will the amount of contribution be tied to owner- 
ship rights and responsibilities, and to decision- 
making rights? 

5. Will some make loans to the community that others 
pay back over time? 

6. Will incoming new members contribute the same 
amount as the founders did? Will they con- 
tribute more, based on increasing property 
improvements and rising property value? How will 
founders be reimbursed? 

7. Will the founders' (or members') contributions be 
reimbursed if they later leave the community? 
Where will the money come from to reimburse 

In every community whose purchase we've exam- 
ined, founders have had equal rights and responsibili- 
ties for the entire property and equal decision-making 

rights. But it doesn't have to be so: for example, a com- 
munity could have contributors to the property pur- 
chase, but not others, make decisions affecting proper- 
ty value, with all members making all other decisions 
together. If the original contributions were loans, other 
community members could pay the loans back over 
time, and thus earn the right to make decisions affect- 
ing property value. But while this scheme would solve 
issues of some contributing money and others not, it 
raises issues of possible resentment or imbalance of 
real or perceived power in the group. As we saw earli- 
er, Hank Obermeyer, as sole founder of Mariposa 
Grove, paid for the property himself. However, when 
it's refinanced as a limited equity housing co-op, each 
shareholder/member will have ownership and deci- 
sion-making rights. 

Dancing Rabbit and Lost Valley, in which only some 
founders contributed loans or gifts, different ways have 
been worked out for non-contributing founders and 
new members to reimburse the contributing founders. 
Dancing Rabbit members don't pay a joining fee, but 
pay a fee for the amount of square footage they lease 
from the property, which pays back their loans. Lost 
Valley members pay a joining fee and pay rent to the 
community for their cabins or housing units, which 
reimburses the community for their current (refinanced) 
loans. Incoming Earthaven members pay a $4,000 join- 
ing fee, and a site lease fee, which has increased by 
$1,000 every year since the founding. In 2002, the site 
lease fee was $17,000. 


the necessary roads and buildings. They could 
never have done this with their original owner- 

And as we saw in Chapter 1, for its first two 
years Lost Valley made no payments on its two 
$100,000 loans from founder Kenneth 
Mahaffey and for the next four years reimbursed 
him $30,000 annually — $20,000 in interest and 
$10,000 toward the principal. This meant that 
by 1995 they'd paid $120,000 total, but had 
reduced the loans by only $40,000. At this point, 
Kenneth was far less involved in the community 
and no longer living there, and preferred to be 
cashed out if at all possible. So in 1995 the com- 
munity secured a $125,000 loan from Cascadia 
Revolving Loan Fund, and a private loan for 
$150,000 from friends who were members of 
their board of directors. With this $275,000 they 
paid off part of the $160,000 in principal they 
still owed Kenneth, and used the rest to make 
additional improvements on the property. In 
1998, they refinanced a second time, borrowing 
$161,000 from three friends and supporters, and 
paid off the balance they owed Kenneth as well 
as the Cascadia fund. They still made annual 
payments, but their loan was in the hands of 
people who thoroughly supported what they 
were doing and were unlikely to repossess the 
property if the community ran into hard times. 
Since that time they've borrowed more funds for 
development and renovation. As of 2002, they 
owe $360,000 in total to approximately 15 differ- 
ent lenders, and pay $3,500 monthly in principal 
and interest. 

Sowing Circle/OAEC began with a 
$700,000 owner-financed first mortgage at 6.7 
percent interest, and two private loans of 
$40,000 and $25,000 at 5 percent interest each. 

All three loans allowed interest-only payments 
for the first five years. For four years, the commu- 
nity paid approximately $37,500 a year on these 
loans, but as they approached the fifth year they 
realized they'd better refinance before their 
annual payment increased dramatically in 2000. 
They got an appraisal and learned the property 
had increased in value to about $1,400,000 (by 
2002 it was probably double that amount). By 
this time OAEC had been offering classes and 
workshops for four years in organic gardening, 
seed saving, permaculture design, and other 
aspects of sustainable living, and had gained 
quite a loyal following in the region. Many work- 
shop participants returned frequently, and some 
became friends of the center and regular volun- 
teers for their monthly garden tours and biannu- 
al plant sales. Dave Henson asked one of these 
friends about the possibility of becoming more 
closely involved by providing a refinancing loan. 
The friend was glad to do so, and she and Dave 
worked out a refinancing loan of $1,000,000, to 
be paid back over 30 years at 6.85 percent inter- 
est. The community used this money to pay off 
the $765,000 still owed on all three mortgages, 
and designated the remaining $235,000 for fur- 
ther capital improvements and a contingency 
fund. Their monthly land payments were then 
$5,565 a month, split between 11 people, so after 
refinancing they paid $515 per person per month 
towards the refinanced mortgage. 

In Chapter 13 we'll look at the common chal- 
lenges of the development process, and how 
some communities developed their land. 

Chapter 1 3 

Developins Sustainable Human Settlements 

AS SOON AS THEY BOUGHT their property, 
Earthaven's founders wanted to began the 
permaculture design process and create a site 
plan. But in their particular circumstances this 
process would take a year or two, partly because 
of the rugged terrain and partly because they 
needed to get a boundary survey since the for- 
mer owners didn't know the exact number of 
acres or the actual location of all the property 
lines. At the same time the group wanted to ini- 
tiate at least some rudimentary physical infra- 
structure in order to move their vision forward, 
but which wouldn't conflict with the site plan 
still to be developed. 
Here's what they did. 

Earthaven's Development Process 

Earthaven's mountain terrain made creating a 
site plan and developing the property more chal- 
lenging than for most new communities. Their 
property consisted of three converging stream 
valleys, flood plains, bottom land, lower terraced 
slopes, and steeper ridge slopes and ridge tops. 
(Unlike Abundant Dawn's forested mountain 
properties, Earthaven had steeper slopes, no 
clearings or meadows, a phone line but no other 
utilities, and except for a tumbled- down hunter's 

cabin, no buildings.) The property's once-fertile 
soil had been depleted by the unsustainable agri- 
cultural practices of its previous inhabitants, a 
small Appalachian farming community. The area 
had apparently been settled fairly densely, as a 
post office stood at the confluence of Earthaven's 
two major streams, and people had even settled 
in the small side valleys and cultivated the steep 
slopes. Uninhabited for the past two genera- 
tions, the land had reverted to forest, and was in 
the secondary stages of forest succession when 
Earthaven's founders acquired it in 1994. 

The first thing they did was invest about 
$6,000 in a boundary survey and about $2,000 in 
aerial photos and a contour map. 

Map in hand, and led by Peter Bane and 
Chuck Marsh, two Earthaven founders who are 
also permaculture designers, the group walked 
the land to identify sacred sites, springs and 
stream courses, flood plains, erosion gullies, plant 
communities, land suitable for agriculture, poten- 
tial pond sites, and potential home and business 
sites. They also wanted to get a sense of the opti- 
mum carrying capacity of the land and limit their 
future population to match it. The concluded 
that if they grew most of their own food their 
land could support about 120-160 people. 



After several seasons of observing the land 
and getting to know its nuances under various 
conditions, they overlaid key components of 
their intended ecovillage onto their contour 
map. They identified sacred sites; land that 
would remain forested; areas for gardening, 
farming, and orchard; potential locations for 
ponds and hydro-power stations; the center of 
their village and future sites for community 
buildings; the existing road; and future roads 
and paths, and they mapped out residential 
neighborhoods for clustered housing with likely 
road access. They decided they would build 
only on slopes, and save their flat bottom land 
for agriculture. 

With this knowledge, and led by their vision 
of "a planned permaculture ecovillage," they 
decided to develop the following physical infra- 


A village center with a Council Hall, a 
large kitchen/dining room/conference 
facility, a media center and library, possi- 
bly shared workshop and commercial 
space, and possibly high-density apart- 
ment-style housing. 

Ten (later, 11) neighborhoods of three to 
eight passive solar homes on quarter-acre 
or eighth-acre sites, clustered on gentle 
south-facing slopes, each site potentially 
terraced in home gardens, and each 
neighborhood sharing a common agricul- 
tural area of bottom land, benches, 
and/ or lower slopes. 

To help restore the soil's fertility and cre- 
ate food sustainability, they would keep 
as much water on the land as possible, 
through roof water catchments, swales, 
and ponds, rebuilding the soil in specific 
areas with layers of organic matter. 


Permaculture is a set of techniques and principles for 
desisning sustainable human settlements, with plants, 
animals, and buildings — and especially the relationships 
between them. It's guided by a set of ethical principles, 
such as "care for the Earth," "care for people," and "shar- 
ing the surplus." (See Resources.) 

Here's Robert Gilman's widely used definition of an 
ecovillage: "A human-scale, full-featured settlement in 
which human activities are harmlessly integrated into the 
natural world in a way that is supportive of healthy human 
development, and can be successfully continued into 
the indefinite future." 

Although the term was coined in the early 1990s, 
increasing numbers of intentional communities are 
attracted to the ecovillage concept. Some older com- 
munities have retrofitted various aspects of sustainability 
(such as building with natural materials or adding off- 
grid power) and now call themselves "ecovillages," 
while others, including some cohousing communities, 
are attempting to create full-scale ecovillages from 
scratch. Most ecovillage activists agree, however, that no 
true ecovillages exist yet (since we can't yet know 
whether these settlements are sustainable "into the 
indefinite future"), so they call these communities "aspir- 
ing ecovillages." 

• An initial"base camp" settlement near the 
center of the property in which people 
could try out experimental natural-build- 
ing construction techniques before set- 
tling the neighborhoods. 

• Member-owned businesses on business 
sites in the village center and throughout 
the neighborhoods. 

• Fields with larger-scale agriculture or 


• Bridges across each of the three streams 
for cars to get to the center of the proper- 

• They agreed not to build on ridge tops, to 
protect their identified sacred sites, and 
to preserve their most tranquil and beau- 
tiful valley as a wilderness area, to remain 

The process of mapping and observing the 
land, creating a proposed site plan and agreeing 
on it as a group took three years, and occurred 
while they simultaneously raised the money to 
pay off their owner-financers and undertook the 
first stages of physical infrastructure develop- 

Here's what their process looked like chrono- 

1995: This first year, they contracted for the 
boundary survey, aerial photos, and contour 
map, and began the process of walking the land 
and observing its subtleties in various seasons, 
adding to and correcting the contour map. 

They investigated the process of creating a 
"shoe box bank," and created the EarthShares 
fund to raise the money to pay off the owner- 
financers more quickly and gain control of the 
entire property. (See Chapter 9.) 

Most of the founders lived and worked in 
Asheville, 45 minutes away, so through weekend 
work parties and with the help of interns, they 
created a campground and cleared a south-facing 
slope at the center of the property, where they 
built an open-walled meeting pavilion and one 
member built a small hut. 

1996: The next year, they continued walking the 
land and correcting their map. They cleared 
more land on one particular slope in the center 

of the property, and built a second road for bet- 
ter access to it. They intended this area, called 
the Hut Hamlet, to be the "base camp" cluster of 
small experimental passive solar dwellings of 
about 300 square feet each, which would serve as 
temporary housing until people could build per- 
manent homes. The founders wanted to try 
many different construction techniques in these 
huts in order to learn how to work with locally- 
available, inexpensive natural materials. They 
also wanted to make their mistakes on a small 
scale first, before attempting larger buildings. 

Using lumber harvested from the land with 
horse-drawn logging and a portable sawmill, 
they built a small timber-framed strawbale 
kitchen/dining room/bathhouse for the Hut 
Hamlet, brought in piped water from a spring, 
installed a small photovoltaic system to power 
the pressure pump and the kitchen's lights, and 
installed a propane refrigerator. They also built 
a clay-straw composting toilet building, a root 
cellar, three more private huts, and footbridges 
across the streams. They brought in organic 
matter as mulch and began creating gardens. 
Beauty was important to the founders also; the 
Hut Hamlet buildings had forest-green metal 
roofs (for water catchments) and, because of 
the red clay in the soil, the earth-plastered exte- 
rior walls were various shades of peach-pink 
and apricot. Several had earth-coupled clay 

Like Sowing Circle/OAEC and Dancing 
Rabbit, Earthaven was eager to fulfill its mission 
of offering sustainability education, so that sec- 
ond year they began presenting classes and 
workshops in the small open-walled pavilion. By 
this time, because they had rudimentary housing 
and other facilities, a few people lived in the Hut 
Hamlet year round. 


1997: The third year, they finished adding 
details to their map. Their permaculture design- 
ers proposed a detailed site plan, and over a 
series of meetings, the group modified and 
approved it. 

This was the year they paid off their owner- 
financers and could finally develop their whole 
property, so they began building roads to their 
identified neighborhoods. They built more huts 
in the Hut Hamlet, and logged and milled tim- 
bers for their planned 13-sided Council Hall. A 
few more members moved to the land. 

1998: The fourth year, they continued building 
roads to the neighborhoods, cleared an area in 
their planned village center, erected the timber 
framing for their Council Hall, and installed a 
micro-hydro system in the stream across the 
road. Several members formed the worker- 
owned Forestry Co-op to fell and mill timber 
and do construction, and they set up a portable 
sawmill and lumberyard in the village center. 

The community finally had enough revenue 
from the joining fees and site lease fees of incom- 
ing members to pay not only for ongoing devel- 
opment projects like these, but to start reimburs- 
ing principal to the EarthShares fund, instead of 
paying interest only. By this time about 15 peo- 
ple had moved to the land. 

1999: The fifth year, they created a small con- 
structed wetlands to handle the Hut Hamlets 
graywater, built a three-story multi-unit dwelling 
to house couples with young children, and set up 
a visitor's campground across the creek. They put 
a roof on the Council Hall and filled in its walls 
(with strawbale, straw clay, and cob), and began 
holding meetings there. Several members began 
construction on their shared community build- 
ing in one of the neighborhoods. 

2000: The sixth year, they remodeled and 
improved the kitchen/dining room in the Hut 
Hamlet. More founders and new members 
moved from town onto the land and built 
dwellings in the Hut Hamlet and/or broke 
ground on permanent homes in the neighbor- 
hoods. By this time about 25 people lived there. 

2001: The seventh year, they finished plastering 
the interior of the Council Hall, and built anoth- 
er root cellar. One member built and opened a 
small general store and a lodge which will one 
day be a members' cafe. Another member raised 
funds for and organized volunteer labor to build 
a sauna. 

2002: The eighth year, they completed a large 
water tank above the Hut Hamlet to improve its 
water supply and extended piped water to other 
nearby areas. They finished plastering the exteri- 
or of the Council Hall and installed its wooden 
floor. One family built a large house to serve as a 
permanent home for themselves, and as tempo- 
rary lodging for visitors and other members who 
were building their homes. Another group leased 
adjacent home sites and began building a two- 
story townhouse- style common-wall building 
with small individual units and a shared kitchen 
and other common facilities. And at long last, 
eight years into the project, they finally had the 
funds, the labor, and the know-how to build 
their first bridge across a creek ford. 

By this time about 35 people lived full time 
on the land. 

By Earthaven members' standards, and those 
of many of its visitors over the years, theirs has 
been an excruciatingly slow development 
process, and it isn't over yet. Even though your 
community may not buy undeveloped mountain 


land with no utilities, and you may not intend to 
build a whole village, Earthavehs story illustrates 
many aspects of the process you'll face in devel- 
oping your property or in renovating buildings 
and adding new construction to it. 

Listening to your Land 

A community site plan depicts how its buildings 
and other human-made features (courtyards, 
common greens, children's play areas, gardens, 
orchards, agricultural fields, ponds, roads, bridges, 
pathways, parking areas, and so on) are situated in 
relation to each other and to natural landscape 
features such as clearings, woods, streams, natu- 
rally occurring ponds, wetlands, and so on. 

One of the principles of permaculture design 
is that for human settlements to be sustainable, 
they must adapt themselves to the needs of the 
ecosystems they inhabit. So a permaculture- 
based site plan also shows how the human- made 
features will enhance and mutually reinforce the 
needs of the land, its living creatures, and its 
human inhabitants. 

Permaculture designers and experienced 
community founders strongly suggest creating 
your site plan before locating any homes or com- 
munity buildings on your property, rather than 
finding a likely spot for the first building and 
then making up a plan as you go along. And cre- 
ating a permaculture-based site plan requires 
getting to know your property intimately first — 
"listening to the land" over several seasons to 
understand its needs. 

"I have had numerous occasions to work with 
intentional communities," observes permaculture 
designer Ted Butchart.T have been struck by the 
subtle but important contribution made by the 
community members who first pierce through to 
a real connection with their particular land. 
They have a clear sense of the spirit of that land, 

and that guides them in making decisions that 
will lead to sustainability." 

Ted notes that the usual approach to land 
development in our culture is to see the land itself 
simply as "an exploitable resource: a blank canvas 
with a certain topology for us to place our build- 
ings and roads upon." To take a more sustainable 
approach, he suggests we must first see our com- 
munity land as a long-term dwelling place both 
for humans and the other creatures living there. 
Secondly, he suggests "we must seek out the soul 
of that land, the spirit of the place. What is sacred, 
untouchable? What is inspiring or uplifting?" One 
quick method, he says, is to find the most beauti- 
ful place on the property, then build somewhere 
else. Lastly, he says/design the built environment 
with an eye for minimal harm and maximum 
enrichment of the place." As we've seen, Earthaven 
founders followed these design principles. 

The other communities we've studied have 
engaged in a similar process. Dancing Rabbit 
observed their land for several seasons, studied 
permaculture design principles as a group, and 
created a permaculture-based site plan for their 
280 acres. Even though their properties were 
already developed, Lost Valley, Sowing 
Circle/OAEC, and Abundant Dawn created 
land-use policies and other agreements about 
how they would sustainably develop the rest of 
their land and engage in any new construction. 
Four communities we've studied — Earthaven, 
Dancing Rabbit, Sowing Circle/OAEC, and 
Lost Valley — offer classes and workshops in 
permaculture design or sustainable earth-based 
building practices, or both. 

Creating your Site Plan Yourselves 

"How well we succeed in manifesting our vision 
of a new village culture at Earthaven will be 
determined by the quality of the work we do as 


both social and permaculture designers," 
observes Chuck Marsh. "Most community fail- 
ures stem from inadequate design, either social 
or physical. Design takes time, but up-front 
investment in good design will more than pay for 
itself in the long-term health of the community 
and its members." 

He notes that while in mainstream culture 
design and planning are usually relegated to pro- 
fessionals, in communities this can be disem- 
powering to members who are directly affected 
by the decisions. Like most permaculture 
designers, Chuck suggests that communities get 
training in permaculture design principles, and, 
perhaps with the guidance of a permaculture 
designer, create their site plan themselves. 
"Community-based design and planning, while a 
much slower and occasionally frustrating 
process, has the distinct advantage of investing 
the participants in an outcome that is more like- 
ly to meet their real needs." 

Here's how Zuni Mountain Sanctuary went 
about the process. In the 1990s, permaculture 
designer Ben Haggard was hired to help this 
315-acre community in northern New Mexico 
develop a permaculture-based site plan. The 
group began with an in-depth study of perma- 
culture, then assessed their site for wind pat- 
terns, erosion patterns, and evidence of past fires 
and floods, and learned something about their 
region's soils and plant and animal communities. 
"Zuni Mountain residents identified the most 
appropriate locations for buildings, gardens, 
agroforestry, sacred places, and wildlife corri- 
dors," Ben Haggard recalls. "They listened to the 
land, allowing its potentials and liabilities to dic- 
tate the pattern of development." 

He describes a portion of one of their draft 
site plans: "A single, short, easy-to-maintain 
road offers access to a tightly clustered village 

center surrounding agricultural fields and a 
spring-fed pond. This road gets good solar 
access, so it's less likely to be icy in winter and 
muddy in summer. It's on contour, so it can pre- 
vent erosion. It's just above the orchard, so 
runoff from the road surface can be used for 
irrigating trees. It's perpendicular to prevailing 
winds and the direction of greatest fire danger, 
so it's an ideal firebreak. And it leaves the 
majority of the property free from incursion by 
automobiles, minimizing potential pollution 
and maximizing open space and wildlife areas. 
Zuni Mountain members took on an ambitious 
and complex project that few could afford or 
had the experience to build as individuals. 
Their efforts will leave the land healthier than 
they found it." 

Avoiding "Urban Refugee Syndrome" 

"Many of us have been so traumatized by the fast 
pace of modern life that we feel we need lots of 
space around us to protect us from a harsh and 
dangerous world," says Chuck Marsh. "I find that 
one of the greatest challenges at Earthaven is to 
find ways to meet people's privacy needs while 
keeping our homesites compact and not 
sprawled all over the landscape." 

Ben Haggard calls this tendency to spread 
out "urban refugee syndrome." 

"Urban and suburban people, afraid of the 
potential lack of privacy in villages and close- 
knit communities, scatter across the landscape 
looking for a place to hide," he says. "This only 
repeats in microcosm the worst mistakes of sub- 
urban development — destructive, repetitive 
sprawl. Networks of paths and roads proliferate, 
requiring maintenance, creating erosion scars, 
and disrupting wildlife. The costs of distribut- 
ing water, energy, or wastes go up. 
Communication becomes more difficult. Often 


these siting decisions assume that residents will 
remain young and healthy forever." 

Before Zuni Mountain Sanctuary members 
learned about permaculture, one member had 
planned his house site far from the community 
center. Like all Zuni Mountain members, he 
would have to first build his house, requiring the 
delivery of construction materials and water (for 
concrete). Ben Haggard pointed out that a 
remote location requires its own access road and, 
in the fragile ecosystem of New Mexico's high 
desert, even driving over the ground once leaves 
a permanent scar. And this house, like all hous- 
es, would require ongoing work and materials to 
maintain. And even well-designed solar houses 
require fuel — firewood or propane for backup 
heat during the bitterly cold winters. 

Ben also pointed out that having a home so 
far from the center of the community would 
make life harder in an environment where life is 
already hard enough. Forgetting a necessary tool, 
for example, would require a long hike home, 
sometimes in harsh weather. "I've noticed that in 
spread-out communities, people simply adjust to 
not having what they need. The daily effort of 
getting from one place to another hampers resi- 
dents' ability to do their work. Individuals and 
the whole community suffer as workloads 
become overwhelming and maintenance of peo- 
ple and infrastructure is neglected." 

Ben asked the member to imagine the 20 or 
more proposed members' homes placed as isolat- 
ed dwellings around the land. "He saw that such 
a pattern would eliminate the most desirable 
open space of the community," Ben said. 
"Anywhere one walked would be someone's 
backyard." The member agreed, finally persuaded 
that clustered housing would allow optimal use 
of the best areas for building and maintain the 
integrity of the commons. 

Creating Privacy in the Midst of 

Yet the desire to spread out is understandable. 
The greatest fear of many people choosing com- 
munity is that they won't have enough privacy. 
However, Danish cohousing residents, who've 
been living in densely clustered townhouse-style 
housing units since the late 1960s, and cohousing 
architects Kathryn McCamant and Charles 
Durrett know very well that not having enough 
privacy is rarely a complaint of people living in 
this kind of community housing."People find that 
once they close their door, their unit is as private 
as any private housing," says Kathryn McCamant. 

"It's much easier to get solitude in the midst 
of community than to get community in the 
midst of solitude," observes Winslow Cohousing 
member Tom Moench. 

Since privacy is a real issue, we need to find 
ways to create sustainable development and meet 
our needs for privacy. Fortunately, there are sever- 
al things we can do. One is to arrange living 
spaces so that front doors and front porches (and 
often, kitchen windows) — the "public" side of a 
dwelling — face the front doors and public sides 
of other dwellings, and locate living rooms and 
bedrooms in the rear "private" side, facing away 
from other dwellings and into rear patios or back 
yards (with no public sides facing into anyone 
else's back yards). Another is careful window 
placement, so that windows don't look out into 
other neighbors' windows. A third way is to effec- 
tively sound-insulate exterior walls, especially 
common walls between separate housing units, 
and use windows and doors that close snugly, to 
create more sound privacy between neighbors. 

"Until your needs for privacy and autonomy 
are met," says Boulder architect David Barrett, 
"you can't really do community." 


Designing for Conviviality 

A community site plan can enhance social inter- 
action and "community glue" what Chuck 
Marsh calls "designing for conviviality." 

"Designing for conviviality involves placing 
our access ways and buildings in patterns that 
allow for, and in fact encourage, quality human 
interactions as we go about our daily activities/' 
says Chuck Marsh. Some of these patterns 

Visual connection. Designers use "line of sight" 
to help people feel more connected. If you can 
see the community building from your front 
porch or kitchen window, it tends to make you 
feel more connected to it and inclined to visit 
and use it. If you can see other members' homes 
from your front porch or kitchen window, it 
tends to make you feel more connected to the 
people who live in those homes and more 
inclined to visit and interact with them. It creates 
the feeling of a cozy neighborhood, for example, 
if dwellings are aligned so that their front porch- 
es or patios and kitchen windows face each other, 
so everyone has views of other members' homes. 

Cozy distance. How far away buildings are from 
a well-traveled common pathway also affects the 
sense of community. In a study conducted in the 
1990s, cohousing architects and members of a 
Davis, California cohousing community found 
that the coziest and most charming "felt space" 
for a front porch from a common pathway was 
about ten feet. 

Prominence. For a shared community building 
to be well- utilized, and to become a beloved and 
inspiring symbol of the community, it should be 
more visually prominent than other buildings 
and placed in a central area where people can see 

it from their front porches and kitchen windows. 
To take advantage of these'conviviality" patterns, 
cohousing communities are often designed with 
their dwellings in rows facing each other across a 
narrow or oblong central commons, about ten 
feet from an encircling pedestrian pathway, with 
their large community building at one end of the 
central commons in full sight of every home. 

Footpaths, gathering nodes, and centripetal 
energy. The flow of foot traffic can also encourage 
social connection, and the path of car traffic can 
disrupt it. Having a limited number of pedestrian 
pathways between destinations with natural con- 
gregating places en route — gazebos, shaded 
benches, picnic tables, and so on — encourages 
people to spontaneously encounter each other and 
have conversations. Locating parking at the edge 
of the site, having the pathway between the park- 
ing area and the homes pass by the front of the 
community building, and having individual mail- 
boxes and a community bulletin board located in 
the community building encourage people to stop 
in at the community building while walking to 
and from their homes and cars, where they're like- 
ly to meet others and connect. Design features like 
these create a concentrated, centripetal energy, 
rather than a dispersed, centrifugal energy. 

"In good design, conviviality happens spon- 
taneously among the inhabitants of the settle- 
ment because the physical spaces are 'tuned' to 
the wisdom of our bodies," Chuck says. 
"Buildings create positive outdoor spaces; 
entrances are prominent and transitions are 
marked by gateways; paths meander and cross; 
places to sit or to tarry are frequent, people feel 
safe to sleep in public or to make love in the 
woods. Permaculture design should nourish not 
only the Earth and our bodies, but also the indi- 
vidual's soul and the group soul." 


Earthaven's members utilized many of these 
principles in their site plan. Their roads and 
footpaths follow the terrain and lead naturally to 
members encountering one another as they walk 

between the kitchen/dining room, dwellings in 
the Hut Hamlet, the general store, or the 
Council Hall. Home sites in the neighborhoods 
are clustered. The kitchen/dining room with its 


Community buildinss are as varied as the communities 
they're part of. They can ranse from a sinsle structure 
housins a kitchen/dinins area and meetins space, or 
they can include these functions and more: dance 
space, daycare facilities, teen hansout rooms, laundry 
facilities, and workshops, to name a few. Some com- 
munity buildinss feature separate structures for differ- 
ent activities. (A sood resource is the "Pattern 
Lansuase for the Village" in A Pattern Language, by 
Christopher Alexander et al. See Resources.) 

A well-designed community building can literally 
help create cohesiveness, give the feeling of a central 
"hearth," and be a source of pleasure, joy, and pride 
for its members. Here are some design tips to help 
you design such a center. 

Put all your eggs in one basket. For better social 
interaction, to effectively "design for conviviality," as 
well as to save money, it works best to have relatively 
small individual living spaces and larger community 
buildings with many amenities. 

Make it prominent. Many communities use architect 
Christopher Alexander's principles of "building arche- 
types" in A Pattern Language for creating a warm and 
inviting built environment that invites community spir- 
it. One of his principles is that the primary community 
building in any given location be taller, bigger, or 
somehow more visually prominent than other struc- 
tures around it. 

Put it at the "heart." It should also be accessible, 
both visually through "line of sight," and by footpath, 
from many other locations around the community. 

Make it beautiful. Cohousing architects Kathryn 
McCamant and Chuck Durrett, as well as Christopher 
Alexander, insist that for a community building to 
function well and be used by its members, it must be 
beautiful. Ideally, it inspires and uplifts the members 
whenever they see it — a physical symbol of the com- 
munity to its members. 

Build it first. Many founders have learned that con- 
structing the community building first, before any 
individual dwellings, adds significantly to a group's 
identity and community spirit. It creates an energetic 
center for the group's focus — a centripetal energy. In 
contrast, when everyone is preoccupied with build- 
ing their own homes first, it tends to create a more 
dispersed centrifugal energy in the community. 

Build it yourselves. Nothing builds community glue 
like working together, and nothing makes people more 
proud of their community building than building it 
themselves. "I see repeatedly that people in general 
enjoy being a part of, and want to contribute in a full- 
body, hands-on way to the physical building of their 
community," observes Ted Butchart. Ideally, a commu- 
nity building isn't built quickly by professionals or 
hired laborers, but created consciously, even ritually 
and, as Ted says, "placed and quilted and kneaded 
and shaped by the users themselves." 


gable-roofed canvas awning and terraced front 
patio is larger and more imposing than other 
nearby structures, and is visible from the main 
community road and one of the parking areas. 
The Council Hall is large and imposing and 
located on high ground, and also visible from the 
main road. 

Developing your community physically is an 
ongoing process that could take 10 to 15 years to 
complete. But creating community itself is never 
really "complete." 

"Earthaven is very much a work in progress, 
a constantly evolving attempt to more deeply 

inoculate permaculture and ecovillage culture 
into our bioregion," says Chuck Marsh. "We're 
working away in the belly of the beast of western 
civilization to find our way home in the compa- 
ny of kindred yet diverse spirits." 

In Chapter 14 we'll look at one of the most cru- 
cial issues of your community-forming process 
— how your internal financing affects your lives 
in community and how attractive your commu- 
nity may be to potential new members. 

^Chapter 14^ 

Internal Community Finances 
(Can We Afford to Live There?) 

is one thing; living with the financial 
arrangements is another. 

The financing terms of your property pur- 
chase — especially the amount of monthly pay- 
ment — will affect your internal finances as well. 
Internal finances are the choices you'll make 
about whether, and how, you'll assess yourselves 
over time, and/ or assess new members when they 
join. You'll need to account for such expenses as 
the mortgage payment, property taxes and insur- 
ance, utilities, maintenance and repair costs, any 
remodeling or infrastructure development, or any 
management costs such as office and bookkeep- 
ing supplies, website expenses, and so on. Sources 
of revenue for communities can include joining 
fees, monthly and/ or yearly assessments, rent 
from community-owned living quarters, and site 
lease fees. Your internal community economy also 
involves members' labor requirements. 

As you'll see, the founders of the communi- 
ties we're examining arranged their internal 
financing in completely different ways. And most 
created these unique economies from scratch, 
without benefit of knowing how any other com- 
munities may have done it. But your group does- 

n't have to reinvent the wheel. I hope the exam- 
ples in this chapter will to give your group plen- 
ty of ideas for considering how you might (1) 
raise enough money to pay off loans, pay operat- 
ing expenses, and build any needed infrastruc- 
ture; (2) call up enough labor; (3) meet your 
members' needs for income, housing, and possi- 
bly equity in the property; and (4) attract the 
new members who'll help you do all this. 

Thus, when arranging the terms of your 
financing, you'll need to consider how much the 
monthly payments will be, and whether the 
amount you'll need to assess yourselves to make 
these payments will be affordable — depending 
on how many of you will split the payments, 
your income levels, and if your contingency fund 
is large enough to subsidize part of the payments 
until enough new members join you. (And will 
your monthly payments and contingency-fund 
supplements allow you to choose members based 
on your agreed-upon criteria, or will financial 
pressure dictate that you accept people you aren't 
sure of because you desperately need their cash?) 

If you're seeking property in a rural area the 
challenge escalates. You've got at least three 



1. Buy your rural property near a town or small 
city with a reasonable job market, or within 
acceptable commuting distance of one. 

2. Arrange financing with monthly payments 
that are low enough so that assessments will 
still be affordable to members with low-pay- 
ing or part-time rural jobs, or who are 
dependent on the uncertain income of indi- 
vidually owned businesses. 

3. Create one or more community-owned busi- 
nesses that will pay members decent enough 
wages to meet your monthly assessments. (In 
this case/'business" could include a non-prof- 
it organization that, like Lost Valley's or 
OAEC's educational organizations, gener- 
ates an income and pays employees.) 

Rural Communities — How will your 
Members Make a Living? 

Here's how members of some rural communities 
make a living. 

1. Rural communities near a good job market. 

Sowing Circle/ OAEC is in a rural- residential 
area surrounded by the cities and towns of 
Sonoma County, two minutes from the town of 
Occidental, 25 minutes from the city of Santa 
Rosa, and an hour and a half from San 
Francisco. It's relatively easy for Sowing Circle's 
11 members to bring in Bay Area-level salaries. 
Five are employed by OAEC in multi-skilled 
roles that include administration, grant applica- 
tion writing, gardening, maintenance and repair, 
and teaching workshops. The OAEC staff mem- 
bers began working for $10 an hour, with annu- 
al seniority raises, and salaries now range from 
$1,900 to $2,600 a month, depending on senior- 
ity. This is a low wage by Bay Area standards, but 
fine relative to the community's values. Sowing 
Circle's membership also includes a grade school 

teacher, a college professor, an environmental 
educator, and a home-based mom/political 
organizer. Another member, the president of a 
non-profit organization, works half-time at his 
home office and half-time in Berkeley, an hour 
and a half away. 

2. Rural communities 30-45 minutes from a 
low-wage job market. Abundant Dawn is an 
hour from the small city of Roanoke, Virginia, 
and about 40 minutes from three other medium- 
sized towns, all with relatively few jobs and low 
wages. Their members' income-producing activi- 
ties are typical of what rural community mem- 
bers with few nearby jobs must do. One works as 
a self-employed computer programmer (some- 
times telecommuting and sometimes traveling 
elsewhere to jobs); two retirees own, repair and 
maintain their own local rental properties — 
and also bake bread for area restaurants; one 
offers a holistic health service in Roanoke and 
the three local towns — and also takes on other 
odd jobs; one formerly owned and operated a 
portable sawmill but now goes to college; and the 
four members of their income- sharing pod make 
and sell hemp hammocks, work part-time at a 
nearby CSA farm, and own and manage the 
fruit-distribution service for the CSA farm. 

The situation is almost identical at Earthaven, 
which is 50 minutes from Asheville, and 20 and 30 
minutes from two small towns, all of which also 
have few jobs and low wages. Some members are 
owners of an on-site forestry co-op that fells and 
mills trees and builds homes for other members. 
One member owns an herbal products business; 
another publishes Permaculture Activist magazine 
(both employ other community members part- 
time); another owns rental units in Asheville and 
an on-site general store. Two artists paint and sell 
landscape paintings; one woodworker makes 


wooden candle-lanterns and another makes cus- 
tom stairways. Two work part-time administering 
and promoting workshops on sustainability for 
Cultures Edge, Earthavehs educational non-prof- 
it. Several are self-employed in full- or part-time 
service businesses: carpenters, permaculture 
teachers (one also does landscape design, another 
also teaches consensus), a massage therapist who 
commutes to Asheville, and a website designer/ 
landscape designer. Two work as waitresses in a 
nearby town, one works three months a year as a 
publicist in a city in another state. Some work 
part-time or for a few hours a week for the com- 
munity, coordinating its labor, doing repairs and 
maintenance, cooking for workshop participants, 
or managing the campground. A few live on the 
interest from investments; six are retired. 

Lost Valley is within 15 minutes' drive from a 
few small towns and 30 minutes from the small 
city of Eugene, Oregon — all with relatively few 
jobs and low wages. Fifteen people (almost three- 
quarters of its members), work for the communi- 
ty's educational center business, either full time 
or part-time. One of the part-time employees 
also works as a massage therapist on-site, and 
others work part-time in Eugene or the nearby 
towns. Members who don't work for the educa- 
tional center have full-time or part-time jobs off 
site as well — grant writer and consultant, part- 
time librarian, part-time park ranger, sales rep for 
a food distributor. Another member flies to a dif- 
ferent city each weekend to represent products at 
trade shows. Another drives 12 hours to the San 
Francisco Bay Area for week-long trips eight 
times a year to work as an accounting consultant 
for clients there, but at Bay- Area wages. 

Rural communities far from a job market. 

Dancing Rabbit members have an even greater 
challenge, since they live so much farther from a 

job market — 45 minutes from a small town 
with low-paying jobs, and almost an hour and a 
half from the nearest city. Two members are self- 
employed in service businesses — a musician's 
booking agent and a freelance editor. Some have 
part-time or occasional work building homes for 
other members. Several have part-time jobs 
working for the Fellowship for Intentional 
Community at nearby Sandhill Farm, or in 
Sandhill's tempeh-making business, or for the 
Missouri chapter of a national organic certifying 
agency. Some work off-site for several weeks or 
months — a personal assistant who helps dis- 
abled people, a traveling sales representative, and 
carpenters who work construction in other 
cities. Several work a few hours weekly for the 
community doing accounting, answering corre- 
spondence, managing their intern program, or 
fund-raising for the community, and one works 
full-time eight months a year, growing the com- 
munity's vegetables. Members of Skyhouse, the 
income-sharing sub-community, work a variety 
of telecommuting jobs, including computer pro- 
gramming, website design, and graphic arts. 

As you can see, in rural communities away 
from thriving job markets, most people make do 
with various odd jobs, part-time jobs, one-per- 
son businesses with an uncertain income, or they 
telecommute. Few actually have "a job." 

Starting a new business while also starting a 
community can be difficult to impossible; bring- 
ing a telecommuting job or an already-successful 
business to a rural community can work well. 
For example, the computer programmers at 
Abundant Dawn and Dancing Rabbit brought 
their professions with them and now telecom- 
mute. The income-sharing pod at Abundant 
Dawn was already making hammocks as sub- 
contractors for Twin Oaks' hammock- making 


business before they began Abundant Dawn 
(they later launched their own independent 
hammock line). The owners of various business- 
es at Earthaven started them before joining the 

The Risks of Community Businesses 

Several founders of rural communities have told 
me it would have helped enormously at the very 
start, if they'd had one or more viable communi- 
ty businesses to employ community members, 
and there's plenty of precedent from income- 
sharing rural communities formed in the late 
1960s or early '70s. Twin Oaks in Virginia start- 
ed its hammock business, and subsequently a 
book-indexing service and tofu-making business 
— all still in operation today. Sandhill Farm in 
Missouri started an organic foods business — 
growing and processing sorghum syrup, honey, 
tempeh, garlic puree, horseradish, and mustard. 
The Farm in Tennessee started many business- 
es, including processing soy foods, manufactur- 
ing electronic equipment, video production 
services, and midwifery and midwife education. 
All these businesses continue today, although 
some are now owned as sole proprietorships by 
individual Farm members, or are owned by 
member collectives. 

However, creating a community- owned busi- 
ness (or a non-profit educational center that pays 
wages to its employees) is not without its own 
risks. Start-up businesses fail at the rate of at 
least 95 percent, usually because they're under- 
capitalized or the founders didn't do adequate 
market research ahead of time. Start-up busi- 
nesses require not only business experience and 
entrepreneurial skill to succeed, but often take 
10- and 12-hour days for at least the first six 
months to a year. Even if you're a community of 
experienced, savvy entrepreneurs, where will you 


In a private or independent community economy, how- 
ever members earn money — working at outside jobs, by 
owning their own businesses, through investments, or 
some other means — they keep their earnings and 
decide how they'll spend, invest, or save their own earn- 
ings. In other words, their finances are private and indi- 
vidual. They pay agreed-upon joining fees, site lease 
fees, and/or other assessments to the community for all 
community expenses, and the whole group decides 
how to spend or save their community assets. Most com- 
munities operate this way. In an income-sharing (commu- 
nal) economy, however, members work for one or more 
community businesses and pool the profits in a common 
treasury, or work at jobs outside the community and pool 
their earnings from these jobs. The common treasury pays 
the mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance, main- 
tenance, and other costs, and all members' basic needs 
for food, shelter, monthly stipends, and so on. All mem- 
bers decide how their common assets are spent. 
Relatively few communities do income-sharing, however 
members of Skyhouse subcommunity at Dancing Rabbit 
and the Tekiah pod at Abundant Dawn organize their 
economies this way. Meadowdance has a hybrid 
income-sharing economy. Everyone works for 
Meadowdance's community-owned businesses, and 
their basic expenses are paid from business profits. 
Members can also earn money they can use as they 
please by working at outside jobs or working extra hours 
for their community-owned businesses. 

carve out the time and energy to set up a new 
community and a business, much less keep rela- 
tionships intact with your partners and children? 
It's much worse if you try to do all this on raw 
land you're developing from scratch. New devel- 
opment either requires boatloads of money to 
hire professional crews, or long hard hours of 


your own sweat-equity labor, or both — usually 
over a period of several years. It's unlikely most 
community founders could pull this off and start 
a business. Bottom line — if you're planning a 
community-owned business, if at all possible, get 
it established and running well before moving to 
the land. 

But there are several other ways to create on- 
site income for members besides the communi- 
ty becoming the employer itself. Several mem- 
bers could create a worker-owned co-op, for 
example, or could provide the community food, 
cooking, lumber, construction skill, laundry 
services, and so on for a fee. Or an individual or 
several members could start a business enter- 
prise that employed some or all other communi- 
ty members. 

A community-owned or member-owned 
business that employs other community mem- 
bers also has its own set of problems. On the one 
hand, community members would have on-site 
jobs, the entrepreneurs would have an ongoing 
source of close-at-hand workers, and, since it had 
an income source, the community would be 
more attractive to new members. On the other 
hand, just because some folks are fine fellow 
community members doesn't make them suited 
for a particular job role. What if the member was 
unsuited for the work, or made costly mistakes, 
or didn't show up for shifts, or came late and left 
early? What if the person was miserable, or even 
destructive, in the job? Imagine the amount of 
tension that could arise between that member 
and the business owners, whether the person was 
kept in the job (creating resentment in the own- 
ers and co-workers), or was let go (creating 
resentment in the person). Also, if some mem- 
bers owned the business and others didn't, a real 
or perceived power issue could arise between 
what could become the "owner class" and the 

"worker class." Or the needs of the business, driv- 
en by markets, cash flow, and other financial con- 
siderations, could slowly encroach on and even 
supplant the community's own visions and val- 
ues for itself. Instead of being a servant to the 
community — providing income for members 
— the business could become its master. An 
antidote to this kind of "creeping takeover" 
would be to set up more than one member- 
owned business from the beginning, or a combi- 
nation of community-owned, worker-owned, 
and individually or group-owned businesses, cre- 
ating a more balanced "marketplace" of business 
activities and employment opportunities. 

Another issue is whether a community busi- 
ness is really viable. A business might earn the 
community far less money per member than 
each person would make working outside, but as 
long as each member's expenses are low, their 
work-hours reasonable, the work itself satisfying, 
and their lives in community fulfilled and bal- 
anced, they're probably living better than their 
wealthier counterparts in the mainstream. As 
the saying goes: "Living below your means is a 
cheap way to be rich." 

On the other hand, a community business 
could pay its overhead, satisfy its customers, fund 
all necessary community expenses, and seem 
firmly in the black, but at the cost of community 
members working inordinately long hours to pull 
it off. If members intersperse gardening, mainte- 
nance, cooking, and other community tasks with 
hours at the community business they might not 
really notice that by the end of the week they've 
worked 60 or even 70 hours at the business, and 
that their free time had diminished to nothing. 
Entrepreneurs and business consultants identify 
this situation immediately for what it is — a fail- 
ing business that's actually in the red — but 
many communities can't see it. 


This happens regularly at a rural income- 
sharing community I'll call Cranberry Valley Its 
20 members work at one or more community 
businesses — installing slate roofs, processing 
maple syrup for local stores, and operating a cof- 
fee house venue in town for local poets and 
musicians. But the hours are grueling and the 
community's newer members become exhausted 
and demoralized. (And in what I call "communi- 
ty macho/' the long-time members remind them 
that it takes a lot of stamina to handle the inten- 
sity of community life.) Someone finally does 
the math and concludes that the coffee house 
loses so much money that everyone's actually 
working for $2.00 an hour, and their outrageous- 
ly long hours are the result of trying to keep it 
afloat. Eventually the newer members propose 
that Cranberry Valley cut its losses and close the 
coffee house so everyone can live normal lives 
again. The founders and old timers don't agree, 
saying that having a groovy coffee house was part 
of the community's vision from the beginning. 
Then there's a major exodus. The scene repeats 
itself regularly with new groups of members sev- 
eral months or years later. 

Given these pros and cons of running a com- 
munity business, here's how some communities 
manage it. And, although it's unlikely that any of 
the members in these community- owned, work- 
er-owned, or individually-owned businesses will 
ever get rich, or even perhaps earn a normal wage 
by mainstream standards, they've found a way to 
live in a rural community and make a living 

1. Income-sharing community-owned busi- 
nesses. Meadowdance founders were convinced 
from the outset that a significant factor in a new 
community's success is whether people can 
afford to join it. They didn't want people to have 

to eke out a living of odd-jobs and part-time jobs 
and still try to make land payments, so having 
community businesses was part of their commu- 
nity vision from the start. They chose two busi- 
nesses, Vermont Software Testing Group and 
Wordsworth Typing and Editing, specifically 
because they weren't living in their permanent 
rural location yet and both businesses were 
portable, and because any members with basic 
knowledge of computers could be trained as 
effective software testers. As we've seen, because 
they didn't get their desired rural land, 
Meadowdance founders bought a large house in 
a town and launched their businesses from there. 

For the first two-and-a-half years, these busi- 
nesses made barely enough to pay overhead and 
marketing, house payments (mortgage, taxes, 
and insurance), food and household expenses, 
gasoline and maintenance of shared cars, and a 
tiny stipend for each member. Then the busi- 
nesses began taking off, and the community 
could relax a bit. Even so, they consider these 
two businesses less than ideal in some ways, since 
both involve sitting at a computer for long hours. 
Now that they've purchased and moved to their 
new property, they'll found other community 
businesses, says cofounder Luc Reid, which most 
likely will be different in nature. Eventually they 
may phase out one or both of their computer- 
based businesses. 

Meadowdance organized its income-sharing 
structure differently than other income- sharing 
communities. Income-sharing subcommunities, 
such as Skyhouse at Dancing Rabbit and Tekiah 
at Abundant Dawn, own their businesses 
through a 501(d) non-profit tax status and share 
one tax return, which gives them a definite tax 
savings. (See Chapter 16.) But to retain that tax 
status, members cannot work for outside busi- 
nesses without sharing that income also, and any 


outside assets must either be put in trust or con- 
tributed to the common treasury. Meadowdance 
wanted to make it easy for anyone with enough 
motivation and energy to be able to earn addi- 
tional income, and they didn't want to discourage 
anyone from joining who owned investments, 
real estate, or savings. So they don't own any 
assets through the 501(d) non-profit, but own 
their property as a Vermont Limited Liability 
Partnership, and each business as a Limited 
Liability Company. (See Chapter 15.) They file 
one tax form for the Limited Liability 
Partnership, and spread the tax burden among 
members equally. With this legal structure, as 
long as members meet their internal work 
requirements, they can work at outside jobs and 
do anything they want with outside earnings and 
other assets. 

Lost Valley's Educational Center business is 
organized differently again. Fifteen members 
work full time or part time for the business, in 
administration and programs, consulting, 
accounting, promotion, gardening, or grounds 
maintenance and repair. The base pay is $6.50 an 
hour, with a seniority increase of 12.5 cents an 
hour more every year, plus 65 cents an hour 
additional if the employee has children. Full- 
time wages range from $845 to $1,040 a month 
(and full time is 30 hours weekly). 

2. Member-owned community-service co-ops. 
Eight Earthaven members decided to make a 
modest living on the land by addressing two of 
the community's challenges — the need to clear 
forest on arable bottom land so the community 
can grow enough food to feed itself, and the need 
for building materials and carpenters for com- 
munity buildings and members' homes. They 
formed a worker-owned co-operative, Earthaven 
Forestry and Building Company (as a Limited 

Liability Company), and taught themselves how 
to harvest trees sustainably, mill lumber, and 
build houses. It was a steep learning curve for 
many of them, as only two were carpenters, and 
they went into fairly deep debt with private loans 
from other members for a portable band saw, a 
dump truck, and other equipment. They are 
accomplishing their goals — clearing land, 
milling a surplus of lumber (and even finding a 
way to use smaller-than-normal dimensional 
lumber for innovative building methods), help- 
ing build community buildings and members' 
homes, and slowly paying off their debt. As of 
2002, they were charging $16 to $25 an hour, 
depending on equipment used, whether the 
work involves heavy machinery or logging, and 
whether the work is on or off-site. They use part 
of this for overhead and debts, and split the rest, 
aiming for a $10 an hour wage. When they can't 
pay themselves that much, they pay what they 
can and credit the remainder to themselves for a 
future draw when the cash is available. Like 
OAEC and Lost Valley members, they're not 
getting rich, but they have found a way to make 
money in a rural community and simultaneous- 
ly serve its long-term vision and goals. 

3. Sole-proprietor businesses that serve the 
community. Dancing Rabbit also wanted to 
find ways to meet members' needs and generate 
on-site incomes, so they formed the Cattail 
Food Co-op, which buys produce from several 
members with thriving vegetable gardens. The 
food co-op collects money from members and 
orders food items from a natural foods whole- 
saler that delivers monthly, but most of their 
funds go to the gardeners. In the April-October 
growing season, one member works full-time 
growing nearly all the community's vegetables 
for the co-op. As of 2002, he was making a very 


modest living by ordinary standards, but one 
that works in Dancing Rabbit's low-expense 
environment. Three other part-time gardeners 
grow salad greens, herbs, and other edibles to 
sell to the co-op. 

Keeping Member Assessments 

There are probably as many ways to assess mem- 
bers for community expenses as there are com- 
munities. The total amounts vary widely 
depending on the purchase price of the property 
(for example, it's considerably higher in 
California than in Missouri); whether it's devel- 
oped, and to what degree; the amount of initial 
costs (down payment plus repairs, renovation, or 
development costs); the monthly land fee (loan 
principal and interest, taxes, and insurance); the 
number of members who will split these costs; 
and whether members will have equity in the 
property. Table 7 on the following pages illus- 
trates some of these differences. 

In each of the rural communities in the chart, 
the monthly land payments are affordable, given 
access to nearby jobs. In the years 1995 to 1999, 
when they were still paying interest-only pay- 
ments on their three loans, SC/OAEC members 
paid $800 a month for the mortgage, taxes, insur- 
ance, utilities, repairs, maintenance, and further 
development, which was reasonable in this rural 
area near high-paying jobs. Now, after refinanc- 
ing, and with 11 members, they each pay $815 
monthly ($515 in land payments; $300 in taxes, 
insurance, repair, and maintenance). The com- 
munity's operations expenses are not paid by 
member assessments, but by their $70,000 annu- 
al income from OAEC leasing their facilities. In 
rural areas with few available jobs, and where the 
property doesn't cost as much, the scale is lower. 
Earthaven members pay $15-$20 per month, and 

Dancing Rabbit members pay $25 per month 
toward the land payment, and an annual assess- 
ment of two percent of each member's annual 
income, plus food costs and, if they rent a space 
from the community or Skyhouse subcommuni- 
ty, a rental fee of $70 to $150 per month. 

The monthly assessment for Abundant 
Dawn members for the land payment and other 
expenses ranges from $105 to $350 per month, 
depending on which pod (Tekiah or DaySpring 
Circle) the member is part of, his/her assets and 
monthly income, and other factors. In 2001, 
monthly assessments averaged $176 per mem- 
ber, and this fee will go down somewhat as more 
members join. If they rent community- owned 
housing, Abundant Dawn members pay from 
$50 to $150 monthly. 

Lost Valley members pay a $250 monthly fee 
for utilities, taxes, insurance, maintenance, and 
loan payments, and $75 to $225 in rent for com- 
munity-owned housing. 

Food costs are usually figured separately. At 
Sowing Circle, Lost Valley, and Dancing 
Rabbit, where members share food expenses 
and eat together, food costs range from $100 to 
$150 per person per month. Abundant Dawn 
members pay for their own food, but are 
assessed $20 per month for bulk foods shared 
by the community. Meadowdance members pay 
nothing; their community businesses fund basic 
expenses and pay each member a small stipend. 
(See Table 7.) 

Joining Fees 

Joining fees vary widely, and some communities, 
such as Meadowdance and Dancing Rabbit, 
don't have them at all. The joining fee is $4,000 
at Earthaven and $1,000 at Lost Valley. 
Abundant Dawn has no joining fee for individ- 
ual members, but each pod pays a one-time 



Founders' Contribution 

Annual/Monthly Mortgage or 

Members' Joining Fee 

Loan Payment 

Site Lease Fee 


Founders paid $1,800 each plus a $300 

$13,41 6 yearly; $1,118 monthly. 

nonrefundable security deposit. Each 

Interest & principal to owner-financer. 

pod pays $5,000 to join Abundant 

Dawn. ForTekiah pod there's no joining 

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members pay $3,000 to $4,000 to 

reimburse DaySpring Circle founders for 

the pod joining fee for Abundant Dawn, 

and for DaySpring Circle's infrastructure. 

No site lease fees. 


No required founders' contributions. 

$20,750 yearly,- $1,600 monthly. 

No new-member joining fee. 

(CRP payments pay about half this.) 
Interest & (now) principal payment to 
private lenders. 

Members build homes on leased sites. 


$20,000 founders'contributions. New 

(1995-2000) $37,500 yearly; 

members pay joining fee of $20,000+ 

$3,125 monthly. 

which reflects capital improvements 

and increased property value. 

Interest-only payments on three 



Do Members Have Equity 
in the Community Property? 

Housing Arrangements 

Annual or Monthly 
Member Assessment 
(excluding food) 

Weekly Labor Requirement 
How Members Make a Living 

Undivided ownership of whole 
property; members lease sites. 
Members leaving after 3 years may be 
reimbursed 25% of their land pay- 
ments, starting w/their 4th year, at 
community's discretion. 

Live in community-owned housing or 
owner-built homes. 

9 members pay monthly land payment: 
amount varies per member (ranging 
between $105-$350 per member), 
depending on pod, member's assets & 
income, & other factors (average 
monthly fee in 2001 was $176). This Fee 
will decrease somewhat as more 
members join. 

No labor requirement but labor 
averages 10-12 hrs. per week. 

Few jobs locally. DaySpring Circle 
members work in on-site member- 
owned businesses, off-site jobs, or 
telecommute. Tekiah members working 
in pod-owned hammock business and 
off site jobs. 


Property owned as Land Trust through 
501 (c)2 non-profit. Members lease 
sites for $25 monthly. 

Live in small owner-built cabins or 
rent community-owned cabins for 

Annual assessment: 2% per member. 
16 members (2002) hold 20 leases total. 
Monthly site lease for home, garden & 
business sites: $25 per 2500 sq. ft. 

1 .5 hrs labor/wk (75 hours yearly). 

Few jobs locally. Members work in 
member-owned on-site businesses, 
jobs off site, telecommute, or work for 
the community. 


Equal undivided interests in property. 
Live in community-owned cabins. 

(1995-2000): 8 people. $37,440 yearly: 
$3,120 monthly. $800 per person/month 
for mortgage, operating expenses, 
development, & maintenance. (2001 +): 
11 people. $67,980 yearly,- $5,665 
monthly. $815 per person/month for 
mortgage, development, & 
maintenance. (Operations paid by 
OAEC annual lease fees.) 

7 hrs week/average. 

Good job market locally. 
5 members work for OAEC (approx., 
$1500/mo. take-home pay) or at 
off-site jobs. 

Continued on page 162-163 (over) 



Founders' Contribution 
Members' Joining Fee 
Site Lease Fee 

Annual/Monthly Mortgage or 
Loan Payment 


Founders paid $10,000 ea. for site lease. 
New members pay $4,000 joining fee & 
one-time site lease fee, which increases 
by $1,000 every year ($17,000 in 2002). 

$50,400 yearly,- $4,200 monthly. Interest 
& principal to EarthShares fund. 


No required founders fees. 
(One loaned money for acquisition and 
remodeling.) New members pay $1,000 
joining fee. 

Original property purchase loans are 
paid off; now pay $42,000 annually/ 
$3,500 monthly interest & principal to 
multiple lenders for further capital 


No required founders' contributions; 
some gave loans; some didn't. 
No joining fee 

Mortgage on house in town: $5,196 
yearly,- $433 monthly. Property Taxes: 
$4268 yearly; $356 monthly. 
Community businesses pay the 

$5,000 fee to be a part of Abundant Dawn. 
Tekiah, Abundant Dawn's income- sharing pod, 
has no joining fee for incoming members, and 
DaySpring Circle, its independent-income pod, 
requires $3,000 to $4,000 per incoming member 
to partially reimburse DaySpring Circle 
founders for their $5,000 pod-joining fee and 
expenses for their neighborhood infrastructure. 

The joining fee for new Sowing Circle/ 
OAEC members is equivalent to the amount 
(adjusted for inflation) it would cost the com- 
munity to reimburse a departing founder at the 

time the new person joins, even though no one 
is actually leaving. This amount is a combina- 
tion of the $20,000 founder's contribution, plus 
the portion of the monthly loan payment that 
goes toward paying off the principal (but not 
interest, taxes, insurance, repair, maintenance), 
multiplied by the number of months (and years) 
the founder paid it at the time the new member 
joins. The joining fee is thus continually increas- 
ing; by 2002, it was close to $35,000. This may 
seem high, but consider that 11 members own a 
property that by 2002 was probably worth 2.8 


Do Members Have Equity 

Annual or Monthly 

Weekly Labor Requirement 

in the Community Property? 

Member Assessment 

(excluding food) 

How Members Make a Living 

Housing Arrangements 


55 members. 

1500 hours labor in the member's first 

Undivided ownership of whole prop- 

$1 20 yearly for operations,- plus either 

10 years (2 hour weekly minimum). 

erty. Members lease sites. Site lease 

$60 yearly facilities-use fee, or, for resi- 

fees $17,000 (in 2002). Leases may be 

dents who use community kitchen, 

Few jobs locally. Members telecom- 

sold to incoming members. 

$130 yearly facilities-use fee. 

mute, work for on-site forestry co-op, 
members' on-site businesses; or at 

Live in small owner-built cabins. 

off-site jobs. 


22 members pay $20 monthly fee for 

10 hours' labor weekly. 

Property owned as 501 (c)3 non- 

shared infrastructure. 


Farh navs month Iv rental fee from $75- 

1 — 1 / -J II 1^— '1 1 LI 1 1 y 1 ^1 1 L<_J 1 I'L-'O, IE \J\ II 1 *J 

Few iobs lorallv 

$225 monthly, depending on size and 

13 members work for educational 

Members rent community-owned 


center business; others work at off- 


site jobs. 


7 members. Community businesses pay 

45 hour weekly (including work in 

Community has option to financially 

all other expenses and give members a 

community businesses). 

assist departing members in setting 

small stipend. 

up new living arrangements. 

Members work for community 
businesses, though they may work at 

Live in community-owned housing. 

outside jobs if they choose. 

million. If new members paid a joining fee that 
was a proportional share of the property value, 
with 11 members it would be almost $255,000. 

When two new members joined the Sowing 
Circle community (as partners in relationships 
with founders), they were responsible for the 
full joining fee, which at the time was about 
$31,000. The community used this incoming 
revenue to remodel two of the cabins so they'd 
each be spacious enough for a couple. The new 
people each paid only about $20,000 of their 
joining fee in cash and are paying the balance in 

monthly payments (in addition to their $815 
monthly mortgage payment, and food fees.) 
These payments will reimburse the community 
for cabin remodeling expenses beyond $20,000 
per cabin. (See Table 7 above). 

Housing Arrangements 

These can vary widely as well. Some communi- 
ties provide housing, others rent housing, and at 
still others, members must build their own 
homes. The monthly land fees at Sowing 
Circle/OAEC confers the use of a community- 


owned cabin. Lost Valley members pay from $75 
to $225 for community-owned cabins or housing 
units, and Abundant Dawn members pay from 
$50 to $150 for community-owned space 
(although they can also build their own tempo- 
rary or permanent housing, and/or bring in a 
temporary mobile home.) Dancing Rabbit mem- 
bers can rent community- owned (or subcommu- 
nity-owned) cabins for $70 to $150. Dancing 
Rabbit and Earthaven members lease their indi- 
vidual home sites, and must pay construction 
costs for building their own individual or shared 
homes. Meadowdance members share the house 
they own together. 

Site Lease Fees and the Debt Load 

Dancing Rabbit's founders wanted to keep 
expenses affordable, not only because of their 
values, but also because of the low incomes peo- 
ple would likely earn in a rural area as remote as 
theirs. So they set up their internal finances 
without a joining fee, and assess members two 
percent of their annual income every year. 

They also set up a system of site leases with 
a minimum of about 2,500 square feet per per- 
son (an area corresponding to 50 by 50 feet, 
enough for a small cabin and a garden), and 
charge one cent per square foot per month, or 
approximately $25 a month per leased site. 
People can lease more than one site, depending 
on the size of their household and how much 
space they want, and can also lease business and 
gardening sites. They can also choose not to lease 
space, but rent community-owned housing 
instead. The founders set it up so that regardless 
of the number of members or any change in their 
debt load, this low monthly assessment remains 
the same. 

For their first three years, from 1996 through 
1998, they paid slightly over $1,000 a month 

towards two of their private loans, and in 1999, at 
the end of their three-year grace period from their 
third loan, began paying about $2,750 a month. 
As of 2002, with 16 members leasing 20 home, 
garden, and business sites, this wasn't enough to 
make the payments, even with their annual 
income of approximately $12,000 a year from 
Conservation Resource Program payments. But 
this wasn't a problem, since they'd planned from 
the beginning to run on a deficit budget until they 
got enough members to lease enough sites, sup- 
plementing their site lease fees and CRP pay- 
ments with money from their development/con- 
tingency fund. As soon as they lease 30 sites, 
they'll have enough monthly income, supplement- 
ed by the annual CRP payments, to pay their 
loans without dipping into any other sources. And 
with 40 sites, they'll have enough for maintenance, 
repair, capital improvements, and so on. 

Earthaven's site lease arrangement is quite 
different. The founders raised the funds for 
their down payment and early development 
costs by paying one-time site lease fees of 
$10,000 for roughly quarter-acre residential and 
business sites. Some paid all cash, others paid 
half down with monthly payments, and some 
leased both business and residential sites. The 
next year, to pay off their owner-financers, they 
refinanced, creating the EarthShares fund with 
a series of small private loans from members, 
founders, and supporters. 

They intended to pay off the EarthShares 
loans from additional one-time site lease fees as 
well as joining fees from incoming members 
over the years. The site lease fees had to meet 
the following criteria. (1) They had to be low 
enough to be affordable, considering that mem- 
bers would also pay a joining fee and construc- 
tion costs for building their homes. (2) They 
had to represent a reasonable value, based on the 


increasing amount of community infrastruc- 
ture. (3) They had to be high enough to gener- 
ate enough annual income for Earthaven to 
meet its loan payments and maintenance proj- 
ects, and generate enough total income to even- 
tually pay off the EarthShares fund and build all 
the community's planned roads, bridges, and 
community buildings. 

The founders met this challenge by planning 
a population of 150 adult members, their esti- 
mated carrying capacity of the land in terms of 
food self-reliance based on 55 to 66 quarter-acre 
sites. They set the joining fee at $1,000, raising it 
over the years to $4,000, and began gradually 
increasing the original site lease fee of $10,000. 
(As of 2002, the site lease fee was $17,000.) 

They later added a compact site designation, 
roughly an eighth- acre for 60 percent of the full 
site fee, and are considering "common-wall" high- 
density sites of housing units in apartment-like 
buildings with shared yards for half of the full- 
site fee When all potential sites are leased and 
the community is full, maintenance and new 
development funds will come from members' 
monthly assessments, from annual fees from 
shorter-term leases for business sites, and from 
revenue-generating events and services for the 
public. (See Table 7.) 

Labor Requirements 

Another source of wealth in a community's 
internal economy is the labor it asks of each 
member on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis. 
Community labor tasks can range from con- 
struction, maintenance, and repair, to house- 
keeping of common areas, bookkeeping, various 
clerical tasks, and answering correspondence. If 
the community grows its own food and shares all 
or some common meals, labor tasks will also 
include gardening, shopping, cooking, and clean- 

up. If members work at one or more community 
businesses, that labor is included as well. 

Communities need to create a budget for 
their labor needs, just they do for financial 
needs. This important step is easy to overlook 
unless you realize that your members' skills and 
energy are equivalent to money, and that each of 
you will be responsible for a portion of labor to 
help make the community viable. How much 
labor is required per person per week (or per 
month, per year, or for the first ten years) — and 
how you allocate it — depends on the number 
and kind of tasks you hope to accomplish 
(building a road, remodeling a building, creating 
a bookkeeping system or a website, and so on), 
how many hours you estimate each task will 
take, your number of members, and when you'd 
like to finish these tasks. If you don't create a 
labor budget, you'll be forever tempted to add 
new projects and ask the community to allocate 
labor credit for them, leaving you wondering 
why you have six half-done construction proj- 
ects sitting around for years. 

As with every other aspect of community 
economics, labor requirements vary widely, 
mostly depending on whether or not the group is 
developing raw land, how quickly the group 
wants to accomplish its goals, how much com- 
mon space or common activities the group 
shares, and how many members are splitting the 
work. Groups that cook and eat together usually 
require a greater amount of community labor 
than those in which members have their own 
kitchens. Among the communities we've been 
examining, labor requirements vary from less 
than an hour a week to ten hours a week. Most 
communities include community meetings as 
part of their labor requirements. At Lost Valley, 
for example, four of the required ten hours week- 
ly are for full-group or committee meetings. 


As in most communities, Earthaven's 
founders spent an enormous amount of labor 
creating their financial and governance systems 
and their physical infrastructure, and wanted to 
find a way for incoming members to match that. 
So, in the late 1990s, they set up a system where- 
by all members owe at least 1,500 hours' labor in 
their first ten years of membership, which 
matches what most founders have already con- 
tributed. Although this averages out to about 3 
hours a week, Earthaven members can arrange 
their 1500 hours any way they like over the ten 
years, as long as they work a minimum of 50 
hours a year, or pay the equivalent in cash, meas- 
ured at $7 an hour. 

Abundant Dawn has a labor requirement 
but doesn't require a specific number of hours 
per week. They hold a labor review meeting 
every few months in which members let each 
other know what they've done since the previous 
labor review. Feedback in these meetings can 
include the observation that someone may be 
working considerably more hours than others, or 
asking someone to do more community work. 
Their amount of labor is related to the need; 
during one period it averaged about 10-12 hours 
per member per week. 

Earthaven and Dancing Rabbit each set up 
internal currency systems (Dancing Rabbit 
"Hours" and Earthaven "Leaps") for exchanging 
goods and services with the community and with 
each other, and for keeping track of labor hours 
owed to the community. Both currencies are 
based on an hour's labor valued at $7. 

Meadowdance members observed that they 
engage in many kinds of work that cannot be 
measured in durations of time, such as taking 
responsibility for a certain aspect of communi- 
ty life, or making sure other people are signed 
up for a particular job, so they made up a unit 

of work requirement called "Responsibility 
Points" or RPs. Even though some RPs are con- 
ferred for oversight or supervisory functions 
that don't necessarily take up time, RPs are 
nevertheless equivalent to about 15 minutes 
each. The community requires 180 RPs per 
member weekly (about 45 hours), which has 
averaged at about 16.5 hours working at com- 
munity businesses and 28.5 hours working 
non-business community activities per week. 
Non-business activities include building main- 
tenance, shopping, cooking, and cleaning, 
learning and recreational activities with the 
kids, computer repairs, and management activ- 
ities such as dealing with taxes, insurance, pay- 
ing bills, answering correspondence, and partic- 
ipating in whole-group meetings and commit- 
tees (land search, work requirements, insur- 
ance, finance, and so on). 

Sowing Circle/OAEC's labor system is also 
not based on required hours, but on require- 
ments to accomplish different kinds of tasks in 
various time periods (although the hours average 
out to about 7-10 a week). For example, with ten 
currently active community members (at a com- 
munity where they share all meals), each is 
required to cook once in two weeks and do dish- 
es once a week, with an intern's help. Every mem- 
ber and intern must do a basic housekeeping- 
type task for the community listed on the 
"Chore Wheel," each of which takes three to six 
hours a month. Every two months they rotate 
the wheel and everyone gets a new chore. Every 
member participates in two-hour community 
meetings once a week, three-to-four-hour "deep 
check-in" meetings every other month, and half- 
day long-term planning sessions and half-day 
work parties every few months. In addition, each 
member is responsible for one of ten "work 
spheres" (for example, wildlands management, 


finances, development and planning, mainte- 
nance), with two or three other members assist- 
ing, so every member is involved in several work 
spheres. Each work sphere can take from a few 
hours to many per month, depending on a work 
sphere's requirements at the time, and how much 
energy the member responsible for it wants to 
devote to it. (See Table 7.) 

Every community we've studied depends for 
much of its labor on interns — people who work 
for the community for several weeks to several 
months in exchange for room and board (and 
who sometimes pay a small amount for the expe- 
rience). Interns are an invaluable source of com- 
munity labor — and often a source of potential 
new members as well. 

Building Equity 

If a community as a whole owns all the property 
and no members hold title to their own lots or 
housing units, it's still possible for the members 
to build equity in the property — meaning they 
are reimbursed all or part of their founders con- 
tribution and/or land payments if they leave. 
Usually such reimbursements come from the 
funds of incoming members, often paid out in 
many installments over time. And even in those 
communities that aren't set up for anyone to 
build equity in the property, members may have 
equity in the home they've built, or in other 
improvements to their site, which they can usu- 
ally sell to other members before leaving, 
depending on the community's agreements. 

Sowing Circle/OAEC members have equity, 
but it's tied to how much they've paid in, not to 
property value. As described above, departing 
members would be reimbursed their founder's 
contribution and the total amount of principal 
they'd paid in monthly payments for all the 
months they'd lived there, adjusted for inflation 

(about $35,000 by 2002). Funds for each reim- 
bursement fee would come primarily from the 
joining fee of an incoming member, and would 
not be available unless a new member joined. 

Earthaven members don't have equity in the 
strict sense of the term, since everyone owns all 
of the land (and its bylaws prevent it ever selling 
the land for speculative gain). Members can, 
however, sell their site leases back to the commu- 
nity at the same price they paid, depending on 
the community's financial health at the time, and 
the community can lease that site to an incoming 
member at the current lease fee. Departing 
members can also sell their houses, and any 
other site improvements, to incoming members. 

Departing Abundant Dawn members who 
have lived there longer than three years have the 
possibility of partial equity in the property, 
depending on what the community decides at 
the time. If approved by the community at the 
time, departing members would be reimbursed 
25 percent of their monthly land payments for 
every year they'd paid in after their first three 
years (minus certain adjustments), over the same 
number of years as they lived in the community 
after the three-year mark. 

For example, if a household lived there five 
years and left, they'd be reimbursed 25 percent of 
the land payments they made in years four and 
five in payments over a two-year period. There's 
no profit on the 25 percent equity reimburse- 
ment, even though the property value will have 
increased, but the amount is adjusted for the cost 
of living. If the departing members had built a 
home, they could sell it to incoming members. 

Departing members of Lost Valley and 
Dancing Rabbit aren't reimbursed any part of 
their assessments, but if they've built homes, 
they may sell them to incoming members. 
Departing Meadowdance members also receive 


no reimbursements, since they didn't pay into 
assessments for expenses (profit from businesses 
paid for this) or for building homes or housing 
units, as they intend that profits from the busi- 
ness will pay for members' homes also. However, 
depending on what the community decides at 
the time, departing Meadowdance members may 
be given financial assistance to help them get set 
up outside the community. If the departing 
members loaned the community money, loan- 
repayment priorities will be shifted in order to 
reimburse them sooner. (See Table 7.) 

The combination of these assessments and 
fees, and issues of equity, helps determine not 
only how easily you can live in your community, 
but also how attractive you may be to potential 
new members. 

Can People Afford to Join You? 

In the late 1990s, Patricia Greene and John 
Charamella wanted to find the right community 
to join. As experienced communitarians, they 
assumed this would be reasonably easy financially, 
since they were debt-free and could sell their 
home for more than enough to pay a joining fee 
and build a modest house, and they could trans- 
plant their tile-laying business anywhere there 
were enough potential customers. They were 
seeking a community in which members had 
independent finances, in a rural area with no to 
low zoning and building codes. They assumed 
they'd pay from $10,000 to $15,000 in joining fees 
and site-lease fees or the right to build on a foot- 
print of land, and about $40,000 to build a house 
with their own sweat equity. But after researching 
communities on the web, and by e-mailing and 
phoning communities and taking several extend- 
ed trips to visit the most promising ones, they 
ended up wondering whether the average commu- 
nity seeker could afford to join any community. 

At one end of the affordability scale they 
found a 25-year old community whose founders 
had long ago paid off and developed the land and 
weren't seeking reimbursement. Members lived 
in small, rustic cabins without water or electrici- 
ty, and shared meals and took showers in a cen- 
tral community building. The community want- 
ed to make living there affordable enough so 
members didn't have to work at outside jobs, so 
there was no joining fee, a nominal monthly fee 
for room and board, and an 18-hour weekly 
work requirement. To discourage new members 
from starting construction and then leaving 
behind a half-built building, the community was 
considering requiring a $10,000 bond from new 
members planning to build, to be returned to 
them when the house was built. And if members 
left, their home would belong to the community. 

But mostly Patricia and John found commu- 
nities at the other end of the affordability scale. 
One had a $80,000 joining fee, as well as month- 
ly payments for overhead. Another community 
looked reasonable — at first. It was $5,000 to 
join, with a $250 per person monthly mortgage 
assessment. Because members shared meals and 
took showers in a central community building, 
Patricia and John figured it would cost about 
$25,000 to owner-build a small home without 
utilities. But when they added the $5,000 joining 
fee, a $25,000 home-building cost, and $250 for 
each of them monthly, after 10 years they would 
have paid $90,000, after 15 years, $120,000, after 
20 years, $150,000 — all with no equity. 

They liked a third community immensely. 
The joining fee was a modest $l,200-$2,400 slid- 
ing scale. The property was paid for, so there was 
no mortgage assessment. The monthly fees were 
$100 to $150 per person rent for one or two 
rooms and the use of all common facilities, and a 
$600 per person monthly assessment for food, 


health insurance, community utilities and main- 
tenance. If they lived there without building, 
they'd pay $1,450 a month for both of them for 
three rooms, food and insurance. To build, they'd 
pay a one-time non-refundable infrastructure fee 
of $15,000, which went towards the community's 
maintenance and development of roads, water 
systems, and the off-grid power system. Added 
to this was approximately $40,000 to owner- 
build their house. The work requirement was 15 
hours a week. But then they did the math. They 
figured what they'd pay over 10 and 15 years, and 
what they'd get, deducting what food and health 
insurance would have cost if they'd paid it on 
their own, and realized that the exceptionally 
high work requirement would prevent them 
from either building their home quickly, or from 
being able to work much outside and generate 
any savings. Coupled with the fact that they'd 
have no equity in the property, it just wasn't 
worth it. 

Patricia and John's experiences illustrate how 
your community's internal finances can attract or 
repel the new members who could make your 
land payments more affordable. You'll need to 
create a balance between how affordable and 
attractive your community may be, and how 
much revenue and labor you'll need from each 
member to finish paying off your property pay- 

ments and building infrastructure. And part of 
this attractiveness is whether or not your com- 
munity allows members to build any equity they 
could take with them if they left. 

The Internal Community Finances chart 
illustrates the relative financial ease of joining 
some of the communities described in this book. 
Newcomers to Dancing Rabbit, Abundant 
Dawn, and Earthaven would need to bring their 
jobs or sole-proprietorship businesses with them 
or find a way to make a living in a rural county. 
Their highest expense would be the one-time 
cost of building a home, which they'd need to do 
with their own funds or private loans (or a bank 
loan if they had other property or assets as col- 
lateral). Building a home would most likely cost 
more at Earthaven, since members need to clear 
and grade their sites and set up off-grid power as 
well as build homes. If newcomers to Lost Valley 
didn't work for the conference center business 
they'd need to find a way to make a living in that 
rural setting as well. 

In Chapters 15 and 16 we'll return to some of the 
most basic tools for growing a community — 
legal entities that help us buy, finance, develop, 
and own property in accordance with our values. 

^Chapter 1 5^ 

Lesal Entities for Ownins Property 

you should set up the legal entity for owning 
property before beginning the search. Choosing 
the right one for your community is a process of 
assessing available legal entities in terms of sev- 
eral different issues that will affect your commu- 
nity's functioning and well-being. You'll need to 
consider issues such as how you'll hold title to 
land, property rights, financing options, mem- 
bers' liability, tax consequences, and how attrac- 
tive you'll be to new members. Not every legal 
entity will be ideal in every area, so you'll need to 
analyze them for the best balance of benefits in 
each of these areas. 

Of course, you should seek the advice of a 
lawyer you trust about these matters. This book 
does not presume to offer legal advice, but rather 
to describe how some communities deal with 
these issues. 

Checklist for Choosing a Legal Entity 

Here's a checklist for the legal entities you're 
considering (based on a checklist created by 
Dave Henson, cofounder of Sowing Circle/ 

1. How will your community hold title to the 
land? Will this legal entity support it? 

2. Will this legal entity (and the way you hold 
title to land) allow you to choose who will 
join you as a member? 

3. Will this legal entity offer liability protec- 
tion? For the group? For each of you as indi- 

4. Will it allow members to build equity in the 
community, and take all or part of it when 
they leave? 

5. How would this legal entity influence banks 
or private lenders in deciding whether to refi- 
nance a mortgage or make a construction 
loan? For the community? For individual 

6. Does this legal entity allow the community 
to assign its own criteria for decision mak- 
ing, in terms of how decisions are made and 
who can make them? (See below.) 

7. Does it allow the community to determine 
the relationship between the amount of 
members' financial contributions and their 
ownership rights? Between their contribu- 
tions and their decision-making rights? 

8. How will your community collect contribu- 
tions from members (joining fees, site-lease 
fees, periodic assessments)? And what will 
be its expenses (mortgage payments, proper- 
ty taxes, property insurance, maintenance, 



capital improvements)? How will your legal 
entity treat this income and expenses for tax 

9. Will your members share incomes? If so, will 
it be from profits of community-owned busi- 
nesses, from earnings of outside jobs, or 
both? What kinds of member expenses will 
be paid by the community? How will your 
legal entity treat your shared income and 
expenses for tax purposes? 

10. How easy will this legal entity be to set up or 
manage over time? How vulnerable is it to 
changes in the law, or to IRS or other govern- 
mental scrutiny? How much are annual filing 

11. How easy would it be to make changes in 
this legal entity's controlling documents, or 
to manage the legal and ownership implica- 
tions of people joining or leaving? 

12. Will this legal entity restrict your group from 
engaging in political activity? 

While these questions may seem technical, 
their answers reflect your community's basic 
values. So the questions underlying all these 
other questions are: Does this legal entity 
inherently support your community's vision, 
mission, and values? Does it support your own- 
ership, financing and decision-making struc- 

Let's explore some of these questions. 

How You'll Hold Title and Arrange 
Members' Use Rights 

There are probably as many ways to organize 
land ownership and use rights and finance con- 
struction of homes in community as there are 
communities. You need to think about these 
issues now, before buying property, because your 
method of land ownership and internal financ- 

ing both influences and is influenced by the legal 
entity you choose, and different legal entities 
resolve these issues differently. Let's look at 
some of the ways your community could do 

Buying Raw Land 

• Like Dancing Rabbit, you could buy 
property and lease individual homesites 
to members for quarterly or yearly lease 
fees. Or, like Earthaven, you could use 99- 
year renewable, transferable leases and 
receive substantial fees for homesites, 
almost like "buying" the sites. 

• You could assign homesites to members 
without using leases at all, but assign 
them based on your members' equity con- 
tributions. Let's say you had 10 member 
households who each contributed 
$30,000 to buy a $300,000 property, and 
you designated a five-acre homesite for 
each. Or , if you got private financing or a 
bank loan to buy the property, you could 
assign yourselves the same homesites and 
each pay an equal portion of the mort- 

• In any of the above scenarios, each of 
your member households could pay the 
construction costs for their own houses. 
Then you'd each own your homes but not 
the ground beneath them. 

• The community could front the con- 
struction costs for each house, with mem- 
bers leasing or renting their houses from 
the community until they'd paid off the 
community's construction costs plus 
interest. Then you'd own the homes, but 
not the ground beneath them. 


In all the above cases, if members left, they 
could sell their portion of equity in their houses 
to incoming members. 

• As Meadowdance intends to do, the com- 
munity could pay construction costs to 
build housing for members, with mem- 
bers working at community- owned busi- 
nesses and receiving a small stipend. No 
member would own their own home, but 
all members own everything. 

• Each member household could loan your 
community the money to build the 
homes, and trade the construction cost 
plus interest for as many years of free rent 
as it took to pay off each member house- 
hold's loan. After the loan was paid off, 
you'd pay rent for the use of community- 
owned housing. 

• You could subdivide the property, and 
individual member households could hold 
title to their own lots. If you had 10 mem- 
ber households and bought 50 acres, for 
example, you could split it into 10 five-acre 
lots, or into 10 three- acre lots and share 
ownership of the remaining 20 acres. 

• In the same circumstances, you could cre- 
ate a cohousing community, with each 
member household owning title to its 
individual lot and housing unit, and 
everyone sharing ownership of all the rest 
of the property and all common facilities. 

Buying developed land 

• Like Sowing Circle/OAEC, you could 
each live in already- existing community 
housing, with your individual monthly 
land payments conferring that right. 

• Like Lost Valley, you could each rent 
already-existing community housing, 
with money you received for working off- 
site or at a community business. 

• Like Abundant Dawn, you could rent 
already-existing community housing or 
build your own temporary or permanent 
housing that you'd then own individually 
(but not the ground beneath it). 

• Like Meadowdance (currently), you 
could all live in a house your community 

• Like Mariposa Grove, you could create a 
limited equity housing co-op and each 
own a share of the whole property, with a 
lease that allows you to live in "your" 
housing unit. 

• You could arrange two or more of these 
methods in combination. 

How you decide to arrange your ownership 
and use rights affects how attractive your com- 
munity may be to potential members, how you 
can finance building your homes, and how much 
control you have over your membership process. 

Attractiveness to Members 

How you own land and apportion use rights will 
affect whether and how members may recover all 
or part of their equity if they leave the commu- 
nity, or if the community disbands. If you set 
things up so that it's relatively easy for members 
to recover equity from, say, site lease fees or con- 
struction costs, you'll attract members more eas- 
ily. And thus, whichever legal entity you choose 
will make this particular choice of land owner- 
ship and use rights easier or more difficult to 


Affordability of Building New Housing 

Your choices about ownership and use rights will 
also affect how affordable your members' hous- 
ing might be if they have to build their own 
homes. For example, if your members held title 
to their own plots of ground or individual hous- 
ing units, they could seek mortgages or construc- 
tion loans, but if your whole community owns 
the land, your members could either pay cash to 
build their homes, or get private loans with other 
property or assets as collateral. 

Control of Your Membership Process 

Your choices about ownership and use rights 
will also affect how much control your com- 
munity may have over who joins you in the 
future. If your members hold title to their own 
plots of ground or individual housing units, 
but to get members you offer these plots or 
housing units on the open market, you may 
have to sell to any interested buyer who can 
meet your terms. Thus, you have little control 
over who joins you as members. And even if 
someone leaving your community didn't intend 
their property for public sale, but to be sold 
only to incoming members who've gone 
through your member-screening process, the 
government may assume otherwise. The 
Federal Fair Housing Act was enacted to pro- 
tect buyers from discrimination, so that sellers 
can't refuse to sell to a qualified home buyer on 
the basis of race, gender, age, religion, or 
national origin. If you decline to sell your com- 
munity home to a qualified buyer who is not a 
community member, would a court say you are 
you breaking the law? Several real estate 
lawyers have told me that the penalties for 
breaking this Act, or even being accused of 
intending to break it, are so swift and devastat- 
ing that they advise against testing it. 

On the other hand, the buyers of property 
for sale in a community may be self-limiting, as 
many cohousing communities have found. 
Relatively few average home buyers are interest- 
ed in buying homes in cohousing communities; 
usually, incoming members who buy the homes 
of departing cohousing members are interested 
in cohousing themselves, and it tends to work 
well for the community and the new residents. 
But not always — and when it doesn't work out, 
there's nothing the community can do about it. 

As you can see, how your community holds 
title to land can cause a trade-off between afford- 
able housing and control over membership. 
Again, you must think about this now so you can 
choose a legal entity that meets your needs in 
these areas. 

Organizational Flexibility 

The legal entity you choose will also impact your 
internal agreements about finances and rights and 
responsibilities. For example, if each member puts 
in differing financial contributions, do they have 
different rights and responsibilities in terms of 
paying taxes, responsibility for maintenance and 
repairs, liability for debts and damages, enjoyment 
of the land, choice of homesite, tax-write offs for 
tax-exempt expenses, and decision-making? 

Whichever legal entity you choose will affect 
your freedom to determine these issues your- 
selves. A Limited Liability Company (LLC), for 
example, allows you to arrange these matters any 
way you like, as long as you spell it out in your 
operating agreements when you file with your 
state. State regulations for various kinds of cor- 
porations stipulate how you must organize these 
issues, although in some cases you can create 
internal community agreements that apportion 
these rights and responsibilities differently than 
your state's default requirements. 


How You'll be Taxed 

How you set up the internal finances of your 
community will affect the amount and kinds of 
income your community receives, which will 
affect how you'll be taxed, depending on your 
choice of legal entities. Since a community isn't 
usually a for-profit enterprise, what are sources 
of community "income" that could be taxed? 

1. Fees collected from members for mainte- 
nance and repair of the community's land 
and buildings, income taxes and property 
taxes, and insurance. 

2. Fees collected from members for mortgage 
payments or other loan payments. 

3. Fees collected from members and saved for 
longer than a year, such as for maintenance 
and/ or capital improvements, or savings for 
any possible future use. 

4. Rental or lease fees for community buildings 
or land, from community members or non- 
community members (the IRS can tax these 
income sources differently). 

5. Income from the sale of products, such as 
timber, firewood, or agricultural products, or 
the sale or lease of rights to products, such as 
water, mineral, or timber rights. 

6. Interest from loans to members, such as 
when the community allows members to pay 
site leases or housing lease fees through 
monthly payments. 

You may want to estimate your likely 
amounts of income from these sources ahead of 
time, and factor the taxation of that income into 
your choice of legal entity. 

This chapter offers brief descriptions of 
Limited Liability Companies, homeowners' 
associations, condominium associations, housing 
cooperatives, and non-exempt non-profit corpo- 

rations (which have no special IRS tax status), 
with advantages and disadvantages of each and 
examples of communities that use them. 

Chapter 16 gives brief descriptions of non- 
profit 50 1(c) 3 corporations (especially in con- 
junction with separate land-owning legal enti- 
ties), 501(c)2 non-profits, land trusts, 
Community Land Trusts, and 501(d) non-prof- 
its, again with pros and cons and examples of 
communities that use them. 

The information in this chapter and in 
Chapter 16 is simply an overview, and not meant 
as a replacement for your own further research 
— through additional reading (see Resources), 
talking with other community founders, and the 
advice of your group's attorney. 

Having said that, let's start with a basic defi- 
nition of a corporation. 

Overview: Corporations and Non-profit 

Corporations. A corporation is a legal structure 
that, like a person, can enter into contracts, buy 
and sell goods and services, borrow money, and 
pay taxes. It is considered an entity distinct from 
the people who own or operate it, so that any 
criminal charges, business claims, or lawsuits can 
be filed against the corporation but not against 
its owners, directors, officers, employees, or 
shareholders. They have "limited liability" and 
cannot be held personally liable for the corpora- 
tion's debts. (It's "limited" rather than zero liabil- 
ity, because if the corporation is found to be 
operating solely so its owners can dodge taxes or 
break the law, the courts can prosecute them per- 
sonally and/or attach their personal assets.) 

Corporations are organized at the state, 
rather than the federal level, and are therefore 
regulated by the state. A corporation is created 
by filing articles of incorporation, paying the 


state's fees, and preparing bylaws and other 
required documents. A corporation can be 
formed for any lawful purpose, and most can 
issue shares of stock to people (shareholders) 
who invest money or property in the corporation 
or provide it with some kind of service. 
Shareholders receive money back on their invest- 
ment when the corporation declares and pays 
dividends, or if any assets remain when the cor- 
poration is dissolved. One way of distinguishing 
types of corporations is by how they pay taxes; 
two of the most common taxation systems are C 
corporations and subchapter S corporations. 

Non-profit corporations. Also called non-stock 
corporations, non-profits are a special kind of 
corporation organized to benefit the public or a 
certain group of people, rather than to make a 
profit. No income from a non-profit corporation 
may be distributed to its members, directors, or 
officers, although it can pay its employees rea- 
sonable wages or salaries, and sometimes its offi- 
cers are paid employees. 

Corporations intended to be non-profit must 
be so designated when they're created, and can 
only pursue activities permitted by the statutes 
for non-profit organizations. Like other corpora- 
tions, non-profits can enter into contracts, have 
employees, pay taxes, and borrow money. While 
a non-profit corporation is accountable to credi- 
tors and any lawsuits, its founders, directors, offi- 
cers, and employees are protected by limited lia- 

Non-profit corporations don't issue shares of 
stock or pay dividends, and don't have sharehold- 
ers. (Exceptions are certain hybrid corporations 
such as cooperative corporations used by certain 
kinds of co-ops, including housing co-ops.) 

Like any other corporation, a non-profit 
corporation is created by filing the required 

documents with a particular state — the docu- 
ments for a non-profit corporation will be 
slightly different from those for a for-profit cor- 
poration. Exemption from income tax is deter- 
mined at the federal level. 

Exempt non-profit corporations. The IRS offers 
approximately 20 different non-profit tax-exempt 
status types. Some of these the group can simply 
select each year, such as Section 528 for a home- 


Limited liability. The protection offered by a corporation 
(for-profit or non-profit), which means the personal 
assets of the shareholders, founders, board members, 
officers, or employees are not vulnerable to most debts 
or lawsuits filed asainst the orsanization. 

Double taxation. In a for-profit corporation such as a C 
corporation, any taxable income which is paid to its 
shareholders as dividends will be taxed twice: once at 
the corporate level, at a rate of at least 15 percent; and 
asain when individual shareholders pay taxes on those 

Pass-through tax status. A taxation method used by 
partnerships, limited liability companies, and subchapter 
S corporations, in which the legal entity pays no taxes 
directly. Any taxable income (or loss) is divided up and 
passed to its partners, members or owners, who pay 
taxes on the income (or deduct the loss) on their person- 
al income tax returns. The purpose of pass-through taxa- 
tion is to avoid the double taxation of most for-profit cor- 
porations. Pass-through taxation is a favorable tax method 
in circumstances in which a legal entity would pay divi- 
dends which would be taxed at both the corporate and 
individual level, and in cases in which the individual tax 
rate would be lower than the corporate tax rate. 


owners association, while others, such as Section 
501(c)3, must be petitioned from the IRS, and 
involve filling out many documents and awaiting 
the IRS's approval of this requested status. 

Non-exempt non-profit corporations. When a 
group files with the state to form a non-profit cor- 
poration, but doesn't apply for or choose any tax- 
exempt status with the IRS, it could be called a 
non-exempt non-profit. A non-exempt non-prof- 
it pays taxes just as any other corporation. 

Now let's examine five types of legal entities 
used by communities to own property. 

Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) 

The founders of Sowing Circle/OAEC set up 
two legal entities and a lease to support their 
intentions and goals. They own their property 
with a Limited Liability Company (LLC), 
which, like a corporation, offers its owners limit- 
ed liability. They operate the OAEC with a non- 
profit 50 1(c) 3 corporation, which leases the 
property from their LLC. 

Advantages of LLCs 

A limited liability company offers limited liabili- 
ty just as a corporation does, and pass through 
tax benefits, just as a partnership does. (It has far 
fewer requirements than a subchapter S corpora- 
tion, as well; for example, there's no limitation on 
the number of owners.) As in corporations and 
partnerships, people put their money in the LLC 
and receive a percentage of ownership interest in 
return. A relatively new legal entity, the LLC was 
first introduced in 1977, and became more wide- 
ly accepted after an IRS ruling in 1997. Now it's 
recognized in all 50 states, though its regulations 
differ somewhat from state to state. 

Sowing Circle's LLC owns all the land, and 
individual members live in its cabins. Each mem- 

ber pays a monthly fee for community expenses, 
including the property's mortgage and other 
land-purchase loans. Because they own their 
land this way, they can control their membership 

An LLC could also be used to own the orig- 
inal property that a community later subdivided 
into individually owned plots for members, 
which would allow those members to seek mort- 
gages or other bank financing for building 
homes. If so, the community would no longer be 
able to control who joined them. 

Each Sowing Circle member, through their 
monthly payments, is building equity in the 
community, most of which they can take with 
them if they leave, but only if a new member 
buys into the community, with the new member 
paying off the departing member. However, a 
community owning property with an LLC could 
certainly retain ownership of all the equity a 
departing member had paid into the community, 
or of any dwelling the departing member built. 
An LLC's members can decide such matters any 
way they like, as long as their policy is stated in 
the documents they file with the state, which is 
called an operating agreement. 

Sowing Circle's founders included their most 
important agreements in the operating agree- 
ment — their vision, mission, and goals; how 
they will operate; how they will share ownership 
interests, profits, losses, rights, responsibilities, 
and liabilities; how they might sell any owner- 
ship interests back to the community; and what 
procedure they would use to disband the com- 
munity and dispose of its assets. An LLC usual- 
ly costs more than a partnership to set up, and 
unlike with partnerships, requires paying state 
filing fees. 

As mentioned earlier, an LLC is consider- 
ably more flexible than other legal entities. For 

example, in an LLC the amount of ownership 
interest per member need not match the actual 
amounts of money contributed by each member, 
but can be apportioned any way the group 
decides. If six members each put in $20,000 and 
seven put in $5,000, all 13 members could 
receive equal ownership interest, equal decision- 
making rights, equal distribution of annual 
profits and losses, and equal shares of assets if 
the group ever disbanded and sold the property. 
Or, the 13 members could have ownership 
shares in proportion to their financial contribu- 
tions, but their decision-making rights could 
still be equal. An LLC can also allow different 
kinds of decision-making rights for different 
kinds of members. For example, a community 
could have supporter/members who invest a 
certain designated amount of money but don't 
live at the property, and resident/members who 
do live there. Supporter/members could be 
involved in decisions that affect land value but 
not day-to-day decisions, which could be limit- 
ed to resident/members only. If members do 
decide to apportion their rights differently than 
the amounts they each invest, or have several 
kinds of membership, they should state this 
clearly in their operating agreement so the IRS 
won't contest it later. 

Like a corporation, an LLC must prepare 
and file organizational documents with the state, 
pay filing fees, and adopt operating rules that 
outline the basic legal requirements for operating 
under state law. Unlike a corporation, LLC s are 
not legally required to keep minutes, hold meet- 
ings, or make resolutions. An LLC passes its tax- 
able income and tax-deductible expenses on to 
each member; however, an LLC can also choose 
to be taxed like a corporation to save tax costs in 
certain situations. 


Disadvantages of LLCs 

Pass-through taxation is only beneficial to indi- 
vidual members if they're in a 15 percent or 


A partnership offers pass-through tax status, and unlike an 
LLC, a community organized as a partnership can accu- 
mulate savings over the years without having to pass the 
tax liability for such "profit" onto its members. But a part- 
nership offers no limited liability, and any partner can act 
on behalf of the whole partnership — including signing 
contracts and borrowing money for it-and such contracts 
or debts are binding on the partnership as a whole, even 
if no other partners agreed. Thus all partners are jointly 
and severally liable, which means each partner is liable 
for all the debts and liabilities of the partnership. A cred- 
itor or the plaintiff in a lawsuit can go after all of the mem- 
bers, or single out only the richest member, to collect the 
debts of or the court-mandated damages against the 
whole community. 

Subchapter S corporations, created for small busi- 
nesses, were more commonly used before LLCs came 
onto the scene. Most communities which would have 
previously chosen an S corporation (such as many 
cohousing communities) now use an LLC instead. An S 
corporation offers limited liability and pass-through tax 
status, but has more rules and regulations than an LLC, 
especially in terms of taxes, and is more complex to 
administer. It wouldn't work for a large community, as S 
corporations can have no more than 35 members. 

"I'm not aware of any reason to form an S corporation 
over an LLC," says Sowing Circle/OAEC cofounder Dave 

For more information about partnerships, limited 
partnerships, and other legal entities communities tend 
to choose less often, see the author's website 


lower tax bracket, (the same as corporate taxes). 
For any members with middle-class incomes, 
however, their tax rate would likely be 27.5 or 30 
percent, almost twice the corporate rate. Also, 
the IRS will consider any savings the LLC accu- 
mulates by the end of the year to be "profit," and 
the tax liability for these funds must be distrib- 
uted ("passed-through") to each member that 

Homeowners Associations — Tax 
Advantages (and Disadvantages) 

In Colorado's brilliant sunshine, a few miles east 
of Boulder where the Rockies meet the plains, is 
Nyland Cohousing. With 42 two-story town- 
homes, each painted a different brilliant color, 
Nyland is one of the largest cohousing commu- 
nities in the United States. Members share a 


Community Associations (also known as "common 
interest community associations" or "master planned 
communities") are seneric terms for ways people can 
own shared property tosether. They include: 

1 . Homeowners associations, also called "planned 
communities" or "planned unit developments," or, 
by the IRS, "residential real estate manasement asso- 
ciations," senerally own the common areas of the 

2. Condominium associations own no property, but 
have a responsibility to manage and maintain all of the 
common elements; that is, all property outside the 
interior walls of the individual housing units. 

3. Cooperatives, more commonly called housing 
co-ops, own the property, while residents own 
shares in the housing co-op and lease their individual 
units from it. 

Community associations are regulated at the state 
level, and laws vary from state to state. What is called 
a homeowners association in one state may be called 
a planned community in another. Community associa- 
tions are usually set up by developers of real estate 

subdivisions and multifamily developments, and are 
used by the residents to own and manage their shared 
property together. Intentional communities can use 
these forms of property ownership as well. 

Community associations are required to have a 
board of directors, regularly elected officers, and 
annual meetings, and, through an elected board of 
directors, make decisions about the operations of the 
association. Typically, either the board of directors 
manages and maintains the common property, or they 
hire a manager or management company to do it for 
them. In most real estate subdivisions or multifamily 
developments, the residents don't get involved in the 
day-to-day aspects of management. When intentional 
communities use a community association for proper- 
ty ownership, quite often all members are on the 
board and use that as the body for governing their 
community. Whether an intentional community choos- 
es a homeowners association, condominium associa- 
tion, or housing co-op depends on the approvals 
and/or requirements of the state and/or the local plan- 
ning department, what kinds of terms banks might 
offer, or how readily available financing might be in 
that state. Financing for housing co-ops is less avail- 
able, and usually costs more than financing for either 
homeowners or condominium associations. 


large wooden common house, a woodworking 
shop, a large organic garden, and acres of com- 
mon land. As in most cohousing communities, 
people hold title to their own housing units and 
the ground beneath them. Nyland's 135 resi- 
dents share ownership in the rest of the proper- 
ty as a homeowners association. 

While laws for homeowners associations vary 
from state to state, in general they require that (1) 
the homeowners association owns the common 
areas such as pathways, parking areas, clubhouse 
facilities, and so on, and (2) all owners of housing 
units must be members of the association and 
pay regular assessments for the maintenance and 
management of its common areas. Intentional 
communities can also use homeowners associa- 
tions, primarily because (1) they are recognized 
legal entities for owning shared property and get- 
ting bank financing for individually owned hous- 
ing units, and (2) some states and municipalities 
require that a group intending to have individual- 
ly owned housing units and shared common 
areas organize as a homeowners (or condomini- 
um) association before its development plan will 
be approved by the city or county. 

Some cohousing communities, such as 
Sonora Cohousing in Tucson, Arizona, have 
arranged that residents are automatically mem- 
bers of the homeowners association's board of 
directors, and decide all community matters, not 
just those of property maintenance, in their reg- 
ular community meetings. Others, such as 
Nyland Cohousing, set it up so that members 
elect a separate board of directors for their 
homeowners association, but all community 
members are still part of the whole group's deci- 
sion-making body. Earthaven uses a homeown- 
ers association to own its entire property. Unlike 
in cohousing, members don't hold title to indi- 
vidual homesites, but lease them from 

Earthaven's homeowners association with 99- 
year leases. All full, active members are members 
of Earthaven Association's board of directors, 
and, as such, decide all community-wide issues. 

Creating a homeowners association requires 
forming a non-profit corporation. But rather 
than petitioning the IRS for a particular tax- 
exempt status (such as when seeking a 501(c)3 
tax status), each year the community simply files 
under IRS Section 528, which means they can 
either pay taxes as a homeowners association 
and receive certain tax advantages, or pay as a 
regular for-profit corporation. (The IRS 528 tax 
status is different from the 501(c)3 non-profit 
tax status used by educational, charitable, or reli- 
gious organizations to receive tax-deductible 
donations. And, unlike a 50 1(c) 3, if a homeown- 
ers association disbands and sells its property, 
there's no IRS requirement that the assets be 
donated to another non-profit; the assets are dis- 
bursed to the property owners as in any other 

Financing advantages — sometimes. Banks and 
other lending institutions are familiar with 
homeowners associations and are willing to loan 
to them when they are used in the typical way, 
with each household holding title to their indi- 
vidual housing unit and sharing ownership of 
common elements with other residents. Thus, 
homeowners associations are advantageous to 
cohousing residents, who can seek mortgages for 
their individual housing units and recover their 
equity if they leave the community. But home- 
owners associations don't offer this advantage 
when a community uses it to own all their prop- 
erty in common, like Earthaven does. Since no 
Earthaven members hold individual title to their 
homesites, no one can use a homesite as collater- 
al for a bank mortgage, and so homes must be 


built with existing assets or personal loans. (This 
is not a disadvantage of homeowners associa- 
tions in general, but a result of Earthaven mem- 
bers not owning individual homesites.) 

Membership control. However, when a commu- 
nity such as Earthaven uses a homeowners asso- 
ciation to own all of its own land, and leases 
rather than sells its homesites, it is free to choose 
its members. (Again, this is not because of the 
homeowners association, but because homesites 
are leased to members rather than sold.) But in 
cohousing communities, individual housing 
units are sold on the open market (one of the 
requirements for bank financing), so the com- 
munity as a whole has no actual control over 
who joins them. The Federal Fair Housing Act 
prohibits discrimination in the sale of real estate, 
and most cohousing communities I'm aware of 
have been advised by their lawyers to sell to 
whomever can meet the terms of sale. However, 
people buying in to new cohousing projects and 
through resales into existing cohousing commu- 
nities tend to be self- selecting — only those with 
a fairly strong interest in the cohousing concept 
and cooperative decision making are willing to 
get involved in a lifestyle so unorthodox by main- 
stream standards. 

Member equity. A member household leaving a 
cohousing community using a homeowners 
association simply sells their housing unit and 
recovers their equity. People leaving a communi- 
ty that uses a homeowners association like 
Earthaven does can recover their equity by sell- 
ing their site leases back to the community 
(which resells them to incoming members) and 
sell their home and other site improvements to 
the incoming members. 

Organizational control and flexibility. 

Technically homeowners associations (and con- 
dominium associations) don't have as much flex- 
ibility in internal agreements about decision 
making or what degree decision making may be 
tied to the amount of each member's equity in 
the property. Like all organizations that create 
non-profit corporations with the state, home- 
owners and condominium associations must cre- 
ate bylaws which describe the organization's 
overall operations and how it makes decisions, 
and use the state- mandated boilerplate language 
for these bylaws, which stipulate one vote per 
housing unit. However, real estate lawyer 
Carolyn Goldschmidt has helped several 
Arizona cohousing communities overcome this 
limitation by adding a paragraph to the bylaws 
empowering the association's board of directors 
to create a policy manual that outlines their deci- 
sion-making and other internal agreements. 
Then the policy manual, not the bylaws, 
becomes the community's flexible, easily changed 
document, which, if they like, can stipulate that 
they use consensus decision-making and other 
matters of community choice. 

Tax advantages — and disadvantages. With a 
homeowners association, all income collected in 
any given year for acquiring property, construc- 
tion, or managing or maintaining its physical 
infrastructure, is tax exempt. But using a home- 
owners association can also result in a tax liabil- 
ity, because the income and expense categories of 
intentional communities often don't fit the cate- 
gories the IRS created for the mainstream hous- 
ing developments that homeowners associations 
are typically used for. In order to get the special 
tax breaks of a homeowners association in any 
given year (rather than being required to pay 
taxes as a corporation), the community must 


meet the "60 percent test" — at least 60 percent 
of that year's gross income, known as "exempt 
function income" must come from members' 
dues, fees, or assessments for maintaining and 
managing that physical infrastructure. And it 
must meet the "90 percent test" — at least 90 
percent of its expenses that year must be for the 
acquisition, construction, management, mainte- 
nance, or other operating costs of its physical 
infrastructure. But intentional communities 
aren't just about physical infrastructure. A com- 
munity, unlike a suburban housing subdivision, 
might have other sources of income; for example, 
from a members' shared meal program, a child- 
care program, rental or lease income, income 
from the sale of firewood or building materials, 
interest on loans to members, or grants or dona- 
tions earmarked for an education program or 
capital improvements. 

And here's the first tax disadvantage: all of 
these sources of income are taxed at a flat 30 per- 
cent. And the second: if these sources total more 
than 40 percent of that year's income, it will 
reduce the community's non-exempt function 
income to less than the required 60 percent and 
the community won't be able to pay taxes as a 
homeowners association — with exempt func- 
tion income — and must pay as a corporation. 

And, if more than 10 percent of its expenses 
that year pay for similar activities that have noth- 
ing to with managing and maintaining physical 
infrastructure, such as implementing food or 
childcare programs, this reduces the community's 
expenses for physical infrastructure to less than 
the required 90 percent, and again, the communi- 
ty can't pay taxes as a homeowners association 
that year, but must pay as a corporation instead. 

If the community spent all its members dues 
and assessments collected that year for physical 
operating expenses, paying taxes as a corporation 

wouldn't matter, as it would be a break-even sit- 
uation. But if the community had capital expens- 
es that couldn't be deducted that year, but which 
had to be depreciated over several years, or if it 
wanted to save money for future capital expendi- 
tures or maintenance that wouldn't be offset by 
expenses in the current year, it would not be a 
break- even situation, and the community would 
have to pay as a corporation. 

Stuart Kingsbery, a CPA and tax lawyer, and 
Pam Ekrem Vogel, an accountant, examined var- 
ious alternatives to this situation in Cohousing 
magazine (Winter, 1995). A community using a 
homeowners association could form a second, 
for-profit or non-profit corporation as a sub- 
sidiary, through which it conducted all com- 
munity activities not involved with physical 
infrastructure — a food program, childcare 
program, educational grant program, and so on. 
(If the subsidiary corporation was for-profit it 
presumably would not pay taxes because it 
would break even, with any income being rough- 
ly equal to any expenses.) 

If the community used the subsidiary to rent 
out space, the rental income would be taxable to 
the homeowners association, and should not 
total more than 40 percent of its income. In 
order to satisfy the IRS, the subsidiary corpora- 
tion must have a separate board of directors, 
operate independently of the homeowners asso- 
ciation, and not be considered an agent of that 

However, there's no specific guidance from 
the IRS about whether creating a subsidiary cor- 
poration would really work for a community 
organized as a homeowners association, say 
Kingsbery and Vogel. 

"Use caution," they warn, and first get the 
option of competent tax and legal counsel. 
Another alternative they consider is to create 


two different legal entities sequentially, starting 
with a homeowners association to collect and 
spend money almost solely on property acquisi- 
tion, construction, management, and mainte- 
nance. Delay meal programs, child-care pro- 
grams, grant-seeking programs, loans to mem- 
bers, and other projects or activities that don't 
involve infrastructure until later, when the initial 
building phase is done. Then dissolve and 
replace the homeowners association with a dif- 
ferent property owning entity such as an LLC or 
non-exempt non-profit (making sure yearly 
expenses roughly match income), and which 
could operate any such social, member-loan, and 
educational programs without undue tax conse- 
quences. They advise tax and legal counsel for 
this idea as well. 

Condominium Associations 

Pioneer Valley Cohousing in western Mas- 
sachusetts consists of 23 acres of woods and 
fields, an orchard and organic garden, and a con- 
centric circle of attached and single family houses 
in red, blue, cream, yellow, green, and brown, plus 
a large common house, a workshop, and a home 
office building where several community mem- 
bers work. Pioneer Valley's 94 members own 
their property as a condominium association. 

As mentioned earlier, in a condominium 
association residents generally own the air space 
inside their individual housing units and hold a 
fraction of ownership in the entire property, 
including all buildings and common areas. The 
condominium association manages and main- 
tains the property, but owns nothing. The frac- 
tions of ownership are usually unequal, and are 
based on the square footage of the individual 
housing units. 

Condominiums are more numerous in the 
East, and their laws vary from state to state 

(although many states have adopted the Uniform 
Condominium Act). In Massachusetts, residents 
own not just the air space of their individual 
housing units, but the inside surfaces of the 
walls, ceilings, and floors. Still other states allow 
condominiums, called "air space condominiums," 
on plots of ground, such as that of Sharingwood 
Cohousing in Washington, in which people can 
individually own their own lots and houses, and 
a fraction of the entire property. (This form is 
most often used in rural areas where a drain field 
or leach field needs to be defined as part of the 
housing unit, although it can also be used in sit- 
uations where the building footprint of a 
detached house is defined as the housing unit.) 

Cohousing communities choose condomini- 
um associations for property ownership for the 
same reasons they choose homeowners associa- 
tions: they can get bank financing for them, and 
some local zoning jurisdictions require either 
condominium or homeowners associations in 
order to approve the development. 

Depending on state requirements and the 
group's preference, condominium associations 
are created by either forming a non-profit corpo- 
ration or an unincorporated association, and as 
with a homeowners association, annually filing 
taxes under IRS Section 528. (Most real estate 
lawyers recommend that a group form a non- 
profit corporation rather than an unincorporat- 
ed association, because the former offers liability 

Advantages and Disadvantages of 
Condominium Associations 

As with homeowners associations, banks are 
familiar with condominium associations and will 
loan to them. Cohousing residents can get bank 
loans for their individual housing units and can 
recover their equity if they leave. However, since 


individual homes are sold on the open market, 
the community as a whole has no control over 
who joins them. Again, as in cohousing commu- 
nities that use homeowners associations, incom- 
ing members tend to be self-selecting. 

Pioneer Valley chose a condominium associ- 
ation because they got better financing terms 
than they would have if they'd organized as a 
cooperative, the only other alternative for this 
kind of housing available in Massachusetts. 
Homeowners associations are not available in 
that state. Pioneer Valley residents elected a 
board of directors from among their members to 
carry out certain tasks. Most community deci- 
sions, however, are made by the membership as a 
whole at membership meetings. 

Because condominium associations must 
maintain and manage the physical area, includ- 
ing the entire property (not just some common- 
ly shared property), maintenance fees are usually 
proportionately higher than in homeowners 

Housing Co-ops — Separate Ownership 
and Use Rights 

Members of a housing co-op (also called a coop- 
erative or a co-op) are shareholders in a corpora- 
tion that owns the property. Their shares confer 
many of the rights of ownership to a particular 
housing unit, and a proprietary lease confers the 
right to live in that unit. Housing co-ops are set 
up as either non-profit 501(c)4 mutual benefit 
corporations, non-profit 501(c)3 public benefit 
corporations, or, in some states, as cooperative 
corporations, a specialized legal entity created 
for cooperatives. Sometimes a cooperative's legal 
entity is a trust, and owners don't have shares, 
but have beneficial interests in the trust. 
Cooperatives are taxed according to their non- 
profit or cooperative corporation status. 

If the housing units are of different sizes, or 
some are more desirable than others, members 
can either own specific shares for specific hous- 
ing units (and these shares have different mone- 
tary values), or a higher number of shares for 
larger or more desirable units, depending on 
state law. Usually cooperatives are used for own- 
ing apartments in an apartment building, but 
land can also be owned this way. Miccosukee 
Land Co-op, for example, is a 279-acre inten- 
tional community near Tallahassee, Florida, 
founded as a cooperative in 1973. Miccosukkee's 
founders designated 100 homesites up to several 
acres in size, and share the rest of the property, 
including 90 acres of protected wetlands. One 
hundred shareholding families and individuals 
joined the community and built their homes on 
these homesites. Members don't have title to 
individual plots of land, and since getting a 
mortgage in a cooperative housing structure is 
difficult, Miccosukkee's members built their 
houses slowly over time, as cash flow permitted. 

In a cooperative, shares can pass from one 
owner to another through sale or inheritance, but 
the right to live in the housing unit, conferred by 
a lease, must be approved by the whole group or 
its board of directors. Thus it is possible for 
someone to buy or inherit shares in a housing co- 
op but not be approved by the group to live there 
(which usually means they must sell their unit to 
a new shareholder approved by the co-op.) 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Housing 

Like homeowners' and condominium associa- 
tions, individual homeowners in a cooperative 
are eligible for bank financing, and can recover 
their equity when they leave. However, fewer 
banks loan to co-ops and loans are usually more 
expensive than they would be for other forms of 



From the late 1980s throush the late 1990s, the first 
years of cohousing in North America, many cohousing 
communities created two legal entities: a subchapter 
S corporation for their land-purchase and develop- 
ment phase (or an LLC, once LLCs became more wide- 
ly used), and later, a homeowners or condominium 
association for common ownership of shared proper- 
ty. Some real estate lawyers, such as Carolyn 
Goldschmidt, who's worked with many cohousing 
communities in Arizona, recommend three legal enti- 
ties, as follows: 

Non-exempt non-profit corporation. First, the core 
group needs an initial legal entity that legitimizes it as 
a group. Carolyn recommends a non-exempt non- 
profit corporation, created by filing as a non-profit 
corporation with the state, but not applying for or 
choosing any tax-exempt status with the IRS. The non- 
exempt non-profit has a business name and bank 
account, and is used to collect any membership fees 
or dues and pay expenses (promotional costs, land 
search fees, lawyers fees, engineers' fees, and any 
other fees associated with the land search), and helps 
demonstrate to potential new members that the core 
group seriously plans to develop a multimillion-dollar 

Limited Liability Company. This is usually created 
when the core group is about to buy their property, 
and is the vehicle through which they will buy the 
land, seek a construction loan, and develop the prop- 

erty. An LLC may have corporations as well as people 
as members,- usually the group's non-exempt non- 
profit is the LLC's first member, and the development 
or construction company they're partnering with is its 
second member. (See Chapter 14.) 

Homeowners' (or condominium) association. This 
third entity is usually created after the group has 
bought the land. It is the vehicle through which the 
group will own its shared property once the land is 
subdivided (or not subdivided, if it's a condomini- 
um), and with which it will help get bank or lender 
financing for individual mortgages. Cohousing com- 
munities and any intentional communities intending 
to develop and subdivide their property as home- 
owners associations or create condominium associa- 
tions are technically real estate developers. Some 
states as well as municipalities require developers to 
create a homeowners (or condominium) association 
for their future lot owners before they will approve 
the group's plat or site plan, and before any construc- 
tion can begin. 

Once the cohousing group has secured mort- 
gages for their individual housing units, the communi- 
ty is built and people have moved in, and the last 
details of property development have been complet- 
ed, the original non-exempt non-profit and the LLC 
are usually dissolved, leaving the homeowners (or 
condominium ) association as the cohousing commu- 
nity's sole legal entity. 

property ownership. (Pioneer Valley Cohousing 
considered organizing as a cooperative, for 
example, but the finance costs would have been 
so much higher that each housing unit would 

have cost $2,000 more than if they organized as 
a condominium.) 

Because the right to live in a co-op must be 
approved by the whole membership, theoretically 


a community organized this way can choose its 
members, yet some real estate lawyers advise 
against this. While cooperatives have rejected 
potential members in the past, it's questionable 
whether a cooperative could reject members 
today without triggering any local discrimination 
laws, although housing co-ops are exempt from 
the Federal Fair Housing Act. 

In a cooperative, ownership and decision- 
making rights are not always tied to the amount 
of equity contribution (although this varies from 
state to state), but are usually expressed as one 
vote (or one consensus decision-making right) 
per housing unit, regardless of the relative value 
of different units. 

Limited Equity Housing Cooperatives 

This is a special form of cooperative used to cre- 
ate affordable housing co-ops, senior housing co- 
ops, and student housing co-ops. In a limited 
equity housing co-op, the price of shares does 
not rise with escalating housing prices. Members 
make down payments and monthly mortgage 
payments to the bank; when they leave, they are 
reimbursed the amount of their down payment, 
plus an additional amount related to the cost-of- 
living increase, but no more. In some states, 
departing members do not recover any amount 
of the mortgage payments they made to the bank 
for the years they lived there. Their mortgage 
payments remain in the co-op as equity for the 
next incoming members who will live in those 
same housing units, and who will pick up the 
mortgage payments where the departing mem- 
bers left off. In other states, all assets can be 
recovered. Thus, owning a home in a limited 
equity housing co-op is not necessarily an invest- 
ment in property, but a way to own a home with- 
out an undue financial burden, combining fea- 
tures of owning and, in some states, of renting. 

Like owners, members must pay a down pay- 
ment, which will be reimbursed when they sell, 
and they own their housing unit and have a say 
in the management of their shared property. 
Like renters (in some states), they have an unre- 
coverable monthly payment. 

While the property for Mariposa Grove in 
Oakland, California was purchased and renovated 
by its founder, its members are considering reor- 
ganizing themselves as a limited equity housing 
co-op. To become a limited equity housing co-op, 
Mariposa Grove will incorporate either as a 
mutual benefit or a public benefit corporation 
(two kinds of legal entities offered in California). 

Non-exempt Non-profit Corporations 

Abundant Dawn in Virginia owns its property 
through a non-exempt non-profit corporation, 
which means it doesn't have a particular IRS tax 
designation such as 528 or 50 1(c) 3. Rather, its 
founders indicated in the community's organiz- 
ing documents that it was a non-profit or non- 
stock corporation (meaning it would not be 
organized to make a profit, and would have no 
stockholders and pay no dividends). Therefore, 
Abundant Dawn's tax rate is the same for as for 
any corporation: the first $50,000 of net income 
is taxed at 15 percent. Why would a community 
choose this form of corporation? 

When Abundant Dawn cofounder Velma 
Kahn began researching legal entities, she con- 
sidered homeowners associations, entities with 
pass-through tax status such as LLCs, various 
categories of tax-exempt and partially tax- 
exempt non-profits, and non-exempt non-profit 
corporations. She expected the community to 
receive income from various sources, primarily 
from members' fees, and compared how the com- 
munity would fare at tax time under the various 
entities she was considering. 


She rejected homeowners associations for 
several reasons, including the "60 percent" 
restriction on income sources and the rule that 
only income collected for maintenance and 
other expenses related to common property 
management is tax exempt. She also rejected 
entities with pass-through taxation such as 
LLCs and subchapter S corporations. While 
pass-through legal entities are taxed the same as 
directly-taxed corporations (in terms of the 
kinds of income and expenses that are consid- 
ered tax exempt or tax deductible), Velma con- 
sidered the pass-through tax status of an LLC 
or S corporation to be disadvantageous. For one 
thing, while members in low-income tax brack- 
ets would pay 15 percent on any passed-through 
income, members in middle-class tax brackets 
would likely pay 27.5 or 30 percent, almost 
twice the corporate rate. Velma also rejected 
pass-through taxation because she preferred 
that Abundant Dawn pay taxes at the commu- 
nity level, rather than the individual level, since 
it would mean less entanglement between the 
community's finances and its members' finances. 
If they were taxed at the community level, no 
members would ever need to wait to finish their 
tax returns until the community had figured its 
own taxes and determined each member's pass- 
through tax portions. And if there were a crisis 
in community finances, it wouldn't create a cri- 
sis in every member's personal finances. This left 
a simple nonexempt non-profit corporation as 
the most likely candidate. 

Velma's next step was to consider which por- 
tions of the money coming into the community 
would be taxable income and which portions of 
its expenses would be tax- deductible. She knew 
most of the community's income would be from 
regular monthly payments from members, to be 
spent on property taxes and insurance, repairs 

and maintenance such as fixing the tractor, and 
buying food and seeds for the garden. If most of 
the money collected from members was spent on 
expenses that were by definition tax deductible 
(in that the monies were collected for the pur- 
pose of making these expenditures), then it real- 
ly wouldn't matter whether their collected mem- 
bers' fees were treated as taxable income or not, 
as the tax burden would be negligible. But Velma 
saw two reasons why the community's tax bur- 
den might be unjust if the collected members' 
fees were treated as taxable income. 

The first involves Abundant Dawn's poten- 
tial savings. The community might want to save 
portions of their collected members' fees for sev- 
eral years, or simply carry over some funds from 
one year to the next. But if they did this, the 
amount collected from members' fees for this 
purpose would be considered taxable income, 
and any amount left unspent at the end of the 
year would be taxed. 

The second reason involves buying their 
property, and to a lesser extent, buying other 
fixed assets. The portion of their mortgage pay- 
ment applied to interest would be tax- 
deductible, but the portion applied to the princi- 
pal would not be deductible. (When buying 
equipment such as a tractor, the payment could 
be deductible, but in some cases only through 
depreciation over a number of years.) As the 
mortgage would be paid down over the years, 
and increasing portions of the mortgage pay- 
ment applied to principal, the community's tax 
burden could become substantial. 

Fortunately, after researching tax law and 
case law, and receiving corroboration from a tax 
attorney, Velma learned that their member con- 
tributions for these expenses need not be treated 
as taxable income, for two reasons. First, 
Abundant Dawn members would be in the same 


position as stockholders, and their contributions 
would be akin to stockholder contributions to 
equity — a relationship which is well-substanti- 

ated in case law. Second, the community would 
act in the role of agent for the members, collect- 
ing money from several households for purposes 


If you buy property together with no legal structure, 
you have two choices: own it as tenants in common 
or as joint tenants. (The terms vary from state to state, 
as do the regulations for each.) If you don't choose, 
the state will automatically consider you Tenants in 

Tenancy in common. As tenants in common, each 
member of your group has an undivided interest in 
the property. Unless you agree otherwise on the 
deed, you will all have equal rights to the use of the 
property, and will all share equally in any liabilities or 
profits. Usually, this means sharing equally all mainte- 
nance costs and property taxes. However, as tenants 
in common, you can distribute ownership interests 
in the property however you wish. Your ownership 
interests could reflect the relative amounts of money 
each of you contributed, or you could choose equal 
ownership portions even if you'd each contributed 
different amounts. Taxes, maintenance expenses, 
profits, and the value of any improvements must be 
apportioned at the same percentages as everyone's 
shares of ownership. 

As tenants in common any of you may sell, mort- 
gage, or give your ownership interest in the proper- 
ty to anyone you wish, and the new owner becomes 
the new tenant in common with the others. If anyone 
dies, their ownership share of the property passes to 
their heirs or assigns, not to the other people in your 

Joint Tenancy. As joint tenants each of you has 
equal rights to the use of the property, and each of 
you also shares equally in liabilities and profits, and 
usually in maintenance costs, taxes, and work 
responsibilities. But if one of you contracts for 
improvements on the land, that person is solely 
responsible for paying the costs if the rest of you 
didn't consent to those improvements. 

Joint tenants have the "right of survivorship," which 
means if one of you dies that person's share doesn't 
pass to their heirs, but passes automatically to the 
rest of you (free from any creditors' claims or debts 
the deceased person might have incurred). 

Disadvantages of tenancy in common and joint 
tenancy. Both tenancy in common and joint tenancy 
are poor choices for communities because you 
could lose your property because of something one 
member does. 

In a joint tenancy, for example, if one of you goes 
into debt, the creditor seeking collection could 
force the sale of the property to get the cash value of 
that person's share in the property. Also, any com- 
munity member could sell or give away their interest 
without the approval of the rest of you. This would 
cancel the joint tenancy, and property ownership 
would revert to tenancy in common. 

And, as mentioned earlier, in a tenancy in com- 
mon any member can sell his or her ownership inter- 
ests to someone who isn't a community member. 
Worse, any disgruntled community member can force 
the sale of the property to get his or her money out. 


which would not be taxable if the same expenses 
were paid by a single household (such as when a 
household pays property taxes or mortgage pay- 
ments). The community would be collecting 
after-tax income from its members, and these 
members would have already paid income tax 
before paying their monthly community fees for 
shared expenses. 

Velma knew they would pay taxes on other 
kinds of income, such as rental fees from mem- 
bers renting rooms or cabins belonging to the 
community visitor fees, and subscription fees to 
the community's newsletter, and this was fine. 

With these questions resolved, it was easy to 
choose a nonexempt non-profit corporation. 
Abundant Dawn members believed such a cor- 
poration would offer the lowest tax burden of 

any of the available legal entities, with no temp- 
tation to shift tax reporting to meet a particular 
legal entity's stringent requirements, such as 
those of a homeowners association. Moreover, 
they chose a corporation because regular corpo- 
rate taxation is simple, straightforward, and easy 
to explain compared to the taxation of other 
legal entities they'd considered. 'A non-exempt 
non-profit corporation was the cleanest," says 
Velma. "It didn't require any distortion of what 
the community is, or creating two sets of stories, 
one for the IRS, and one for real." 

In Chapter 16 we'll look briefly at various kinds 
of tax-exempt non-profits. 

Chapter 1 6 

If You're Using a Tax-exempt Non-profit 

Oregon, Lost Valley Educational Center is 
organized as a non-profit 501(c)3 corporation. A 
50 1(c) 3 non-profit must offer a religious, chari- 
table, educational, scientific, or literary benefit. 
(To the IRS, "religious" is not limited to recog- 
nized religions, but can include alternative forms 
of spirituality, which is why yoga ashram com- 
munities and meditation centers often use 
501(c) non-profits.) Lost Valley can use a 
50 1(c) 3 because of its educational mission: to 
teach people about sustainable living. Sowing 
Circle/ OAEC in California, Earthaven 
Ecovillage in North Carolina, and Dancing 
Rabbit in Missouri all use 501(c)3s to conduct 
research, offer documentation, and offer classes 
and workshops in sustainable living. 

Again, neither I nor the publisher, nor any 
community members mentioned in this book 
presume to offer legal advice about tax-exempt 
non-profits. This information is intended to 
offer a variety of ideas for you and your commu- 
nity to consider. 

Advantages of a 501 (c)3 — Donations, 
Tax Breaks, Limited Liability 

Tax-deductible donations. The primary reason 
for an organization to incorporate as a 50 1(c) 3 is 

to receive foundation grants and tax-deductible 
donations. Donors can claim up to 50 percent of 
their adjusted gross income for such donations. 
People can leave money to a 50 1(c) 3 in their 
wills, and upon their death their estate can 
receive an exemption from federal estate taxes. 
Also, having a 50 1(c) 3 may make your commu- 
nity more desirable to donors and philanthro- 
pists for private loans with generous terms, as we 
saw with Sowing Circle/OAEC's refinancing. 

Significant tax breaks. A 501(c)3 non-profit 
doesn't pay federal or state income taxes on 
income generated by any business activities relat- 
ed to its purpose. It does pay taxes on income 
generated by activities not related to its purpose, 
however. For example, Sowing Circle/OAEC 
pays no taxes on fees for its classes, workshops, 
and plant sales, but if for some reason it also 
repaired cars, it would pay taxes on all car-repair 
income, since that activity is not related to its 
purpose. In most cases, if a 501(c)3 owns land, it 
is often exempt from county property taxes. It 
does pay sales tax. 

Other savings. As a non-profit, you are more 
likely to receive material donations and support 
from volunteers. You can get non-profit third 



class bulk postal rates for any bulk mailings, dis- 
counted space from some Internet service 
providers, lower advertising rates in some publi- 
cations, and free radio and TV public service 

Limited liability. As with all corporations, a 
501c(3) non-profit confers limited liability on its 
directors, trustees, officers, employees, and mem- 
bers. However, courts hold non-profit board 
members and officers to a higher standard of 
conduct and accountability than those of for- 
profit corporations. Non-profits often buy liabil- 
ity insurance to protect their officers and board 

On-site income for community members. If 

your 501(c)3 will be operating an educational or 
other kind of organization that requires full- or 
part-time staff, you can hire your own communi- 
ty members as employees, and pay their salaries 
from the non-profit's income (though these can't 
be exorbitant salaries). Rural communities often 
need community businesses in which people can 
earn money without commuting to jobs else- 
where, and depending on their purpose and 
scale, a 501(c)3's on-site activities can offer such 
jobs. This is how two-thirds the members of 
Lost Valley Educational Center and five of 
Sowing Circle's members make a living without 
leaving their land. 

Disadvantages of a 501 (c)3 — Onerous 
Requirements, Irrecoverable Assets 

High set-up and maintenance costs. It can be 
costly to hire a lawyer to prepare incorporation 
forms and a tax accountant to prepare IRS appli- 
cations. As mentioned in Chapter 8, you can save 
money by doing much of this yourself with the 
help of Nolo Press's book How to Form a Non- 

profit Corporation and asking a lawyer and tax 
accountant to check your work. The total fees to 
incorporate in many states is less than $200, 
including the application fee for federal tax 
exemption, but annual registration fees may be 
high: in 2002 it was $800 per year in California, 
for example. (However, most states' annual fees 
for for-profit corporations are similar.) 

Restricted access to bank financing. If you'll be 
seeking private loans from friends and support- 
ers to buy your property or for projects that sup- 
port your mission, having a 50 1(c) 3 for lenders 
to loan to can be an advantage. But it can be a 
distinct disadvantage if you'll be seeking a bank 
loan, since most banks prefer not to loan to non- 
profits, preferring instead to loan to corporations 
or LLCs. 

No equity in the property for members. 

Members of Lost Valley and Dancing Rabbit 
cannot build any equity in their property that 
they could take with them if they left the com- 
munity, since these communities own their prop- 
erty as 501(c)3s (or 501(c)2s). Sowing Circle/ 
OAEC members do build equity however, since 
their property itself is owned as an LLC and 
their 501(c)3 owns nothing but simply manages 
their educational center project. 

Paper shuffling, number crunching. Like all 
corporations, a 50 1(c) 3 requires ongoing 
record-keeping. This begins with the filing of 
the initial documents with the state, and contin- 
ues with an annual report of activities and other 
mandatory forms. IRS requirements can also be 
intimidating. You must keep meticulous finan- 
cial records with double-entry bookkeeping to 
prove that your 501(c)3 continues to deserve its 
tax-exempt status, prepare annual non-profit 


informational tax returns, and, if it has employ- 
ees, deal with payroll tax withholding and 
reporting. Often the idealists who want to set 
up 50 1(c) 3s are unfamiliar with these business 
procedures, but if they fail to do these things the 
IRS can freeze their bank account and bring all 
their non-profit activities to a halt. Most non- 
profits start out with a tax advisor or accountant 
to help them set up their books and create a sys- 
tem to prepare tax forms on time. Some non- 
profits get these services at no cost by arranging 
that a bookkeeper or accountant friend is on the 
board of directors. 

Restricted politics. As a 50 1(c) 3, a significant 
portion of your activities cannot be influencing 
legislation or endorsing or supporting candidates 
for public office. How much a "significant por- 
tion" is depends on the state. 

Losing control of your non-profit. One critical 
point with 501(c)3s is that 51 percent of the 
people on its board of directors must be "disin- 
terested." This doesn't mean uninterested (in the 
non-profit's activities); it means they must have 
no financial interest in your non-profit, and can- 
not materially benefit from its existence. If you 
own your land with a 50 1(c) 3, at least 51 per- 
cent of your board members cannot live there, 
and if it operates your non-profit business, at 
least 51 percent cannot be its paid employees. 
Some non-profits initially organize themselves 
with a group of what's called "voting members" 
who elect their board of directors every three 
years. If you organize yourselves this way, 51 
percent of your voting members must be disin- 

While it's relatively easy to find supportive 
friends willing to become board members, you 
cannot predict or control what they might do in 

the future. Years down the road, as things and 
people change, you could find yourselves fighting 
desperately with your own board for control of 
the assets you yourselves donated. If the majori- 
ty of your board members someday vote to radi- 
cally change your mission, kick all of you off the 
property, or disband the community, you could- 
n't do a thing about it. (You couldn't' block such 
a decision in a consensus process, since state law 
requires that non-profit boards must use major- 
ity-rule voting. No matter what you might try to 
block, a 51 percent vote of your board members 
can change the course of your community's his- 
tory forever.) "This is the biggest danger with a 
non-profit," warns Dave Henson. 

At least one community has found a way to 
solve his, however, as we'll see below. 

Irrecoverable assets. Once your community 
donates assets such as cash, securities, personal 
property, or land in a 501(c)3 non-profit, you can 
never get these assets out again. (This isn't true 
of loans. You can loan money to a non-profit, as 
two Dancing Rabbit founders did, and receive 
interest and recover part or all of the value of the 
loan if the community disbands or sells its assets 
to pay its debts.) If things don't work out and 
you disband, you cannot take back the value of 
the land and its capital improvements, but must 
either donate your property to another non- 
profit, or sell it and donate the proceeds of the 
sale to a non-profit. 

For many communities this is not a disad- 
vantage, since they choose a 50 1(c) 3 primarily 
for this feature. When Dianne Brause and 
Kenneth Mahaffey bought the Lost Valley 
property, for example, they wanted to restore the 
land and protect it from ever being sold for spec- 
ulative gain. They chose a 50 1(c) 3, knowing that 
no community member could ever personally 


benefit from the sale of the property, which 
would act as a major disincentive for any future 
community members to disband the communi- 
ty and sell the land. Sometimes communities 
choose 501(c)3s for land ownership because the 
founders want to live out their ideals, intending 
to move to community and stay there. Nature's 
Spirit founders chose a 501(c)3 partly for this 
reason, and partly from a commitment to live a 
more spiritual way of life in a beautiful rural set- 
ting. Why would they want to leave? 

However, one community's blessing is anoth- 
er's downfall. It's disastrous to start a project you 
can never recoup your life savings from if that's 
not explicitly what you intend at the beginning. 
What if things don't work out as you imagined? 
(Remember the 90 percent?) There's nothing 
more demoralizing than disillusioned communi- 
tarians grimly hanging on for decades because no 
one can afford to leave. 

If you choose to own your property as a 
50 1(c) 3, be sure you understand all the implica- 
tions. Be certain you're choosing it for the right 
reasons — not just because you think it's cool! 

Land-Owning Entities and 501 (c)3 
Corporations — The Best of Both Worlds 

"Think really hard before you use your 50 1(c) 3 
to own anything," advises Dave Henson. Sowing 
Circle community's non-profit OAEC owns 
nothing but its good reputation and some office 
supplies. Everything else — OAEC's office 
building, equipment, classrooms, dorms, dining 
facilities, and the grounds on which they host 
visitors and teach classes-is leased from the 
Sowing Circle LLC. The lease fee is $70,000 a 
year, and OAEC splits with Sowing Circle costs 
for repairing and maintaining the land and 
buildings it uses. The mission of Sowing Circle 
community founders is to live sustainably in 

community and promote a more environmental- 
ly aware, ecologically sustainable way of life. 
They created OAEC as a 50 1(c) 3 non-profit to 
help them carry out this mission by offering 
workshops and classes to promote the arts, social 
justice, environmental activism, and ecological 
sustainability. Sowing Circle founders also set up 
OAEC in order to provide income for communi- 
ty members, five of whom are salaried OAEC 

The OAEC non-profit makes money from a 
variety of sources, such as workshop and class 
fees, consulting fees, facility rentals, membership 
fees from supporting members, plant sales, foun- 
dation grants, and private donations (including 
volunteer labor and work exchange and donated 
in- kind services, such as printing). 

The non-profit spends money on salaries for 
20 full- and part-time employees (including off- 
site employees, and on-site residents who aren't 
community members), as well as associated 
expenses for Workers' Compensation; meals for 
work-exchange staff and course participants; 
wages for outside instructors; advertising and 
promotional costs; office supplies, postage, etc.; 
and when needed, materials or outside labor for 
repairing and maintaining leased grounds and 

The Sowing Circle community's expenses, 
on the other hand, include mortgage payments, 
liability insurance, property taxes, food and other 
household expenses, and donations to OAEC 
for materials and any outside labor for mainte- 
nance and repairs. Because it's organized as an 
LLC, Sowing Circle's taxable income is divided 
up and passed to each member. 

Sowing Circle receives income from mem- 
bers' monthly dues and OAEC's lease fees. In 
the beginning OAEC had agreed to pay $24,000 
in lease fees, but the first year it could only pay 


half, and Sowing Circle wrote off the other half 
as a business loss. Several years later Sowing 
Circle hired a rural property appraiser and 
learned that, at market rates, their property 
could be worth up to $85,000 in annual lease 
fees (in year 2000 dollars). So Sowing Circle 
raised its annual lease fee to $70,000. The lease 
fee Sowing Circle charges OAEC cannot be any 
higher than the appraised market value of such 
a lease, or the IRS would consider it "self-deal- 
ing. To be safe, Sowing Circle charges OAEC 
$15,000 less than the appraised leasable value of 
their property. 

In terms of decision making, all 11 Sowing 
Circle members make decisions about the rela- 
tionship between their community and their 
educational non-profit. All OAEC staff mem- 
bers (including the non-community members), 
decide the non-profit's financial and other mat- 
ters, and its board of directors make major poli- 
cy decisions. Forty-nine percent of these direc- 
tors are also Sowing Circle members. (To pro- 
tect themselves, Sowing Circle's lease document 
has a clause which allows them to terminate 
OAEC's lease at any time for any reason. If a 
majority of OAEC's board tried for some reason 
to take the non-profit in a direction the commu- 
nity didn't want, the community could cancel 
the lease and OAEC would lose its teaching 

Sowing Circle community benefits from its 
business relationship with OAEC in several 
ways, including: 

• Community founders can accomplish 
their educational mission without undue 
taxation or liability of their members or 
property. If OAEC were ever in financial 
or legal trouble, the community's land 
would be safe from any debts or lawsuits 
against the non-profit. 

• Nearly half Sowing Circle's members, 
and six to ten other long-term residents 
and interns work for OAEC, and so don't 
have to leave the property to make a liv- 

• It earns $70,000 in annual lease fees. 

• Most of its property and buildings are 
repaired and maintained by OAEC. 

• Any grants or donations that come in to 
OAEC specifically earmarked for facili- 
ties improvement benefit the communi- 
ty's land and buildings (since they're the 
same), and result in capital improvements 
to the community. 

• If Sowing Circle has taxable income left 
over at the end of the year it can donate it 
to OAEC for certain kinds of non-capi- 
talizable maintenance and repair (that is, 
projects that don't improve the property 
long-term), and receive a tax break for the 

OAEC benefits from its business relation- 
ship with Sowing Circle community as well. For 

• It has beautiful grounds and facilities for 
its educational activities. 

• Its five Sowing Circle staff members are 
devoted to its mission, and live on-site. 

• Its lease is relatively secure, because the 
same people, with the same intentions 
and vision, are the lessors and lessee. If for 
some reason OAEC couldn't fulfill its 
maintenance responsibilities, or couldn't 
pay its annual lease fee, there'd be a great 
deal of flexibility in solving the problem. 

For information on setting up and maintain- 
ing a 501(c)3 non-profit, see Appendix 3. 


How One Group Retained Control of its 

"We never wanted to lose control of our own 
projects, or even fight with our board if things 
changed someday/' one founder told me. She and 
her seven cofounders set up a 50 1(c) 3 in such a 
way as to protect themselves from this kind of 

They planned that 17 "voting members" 
(that is, a special group that elects their board of 
directors every three years), would elect eight 
people to their board. All eight founders became 
voting members. They needed nine more people 
to become the remaining voting members, so 
that at least 51% would be "disinterested." The 
founders asked nine of their closest friends to 
become voting members, explaining that their 
sole role would be to vote for the non-profit's 
board of directors every three years. The 
founders described their non-profit's mission 
and goals and gave their friends all of its docu- 
ments. Then the eight founders nominated 
themselves as eight of the board members for the 
first three years. They asked these friends/voting 
members to approve or deny their slate of board 
member candidates (themselves), hoping, of 
course, that the friends would approve them. ("If 
any of you have a problem with our request to 
approve or deny the candidates," the founders 
asked them in advance/then please don't agree to 
become voting members.") Since the friends 
knew and trusted the founders they voted to 
approve them as board members, as expected. 
The IRS looked very carefully at each of these 
nine voting members to make sure they didn't 
benefit materially from the non-profit, and they 
didn't. After the usual three-year period of close 
scrutiny, the IRS was satisfied. At this point, the 
founders asked their friends to disband the vot- 

ing membership aspect of the non-profit (which 
voting members can do), and increase the board 
to 11 members. The voting member-friends did 
this, and the founders asked three of them to join 
their board, which they did. 

Now the community had all eight communi- 
ty members and three friends on the non-profit's 
board. Why did they want three non-members 
to join them? Whenever the board had to decide 
matters that benefited the community (such as 
adjusting the lease fee of the buildings it rents 
from the community), or raising salaries of com- 
munity members who are also paid employees, 
they must remove themselves from the decision. 
They have three non-community board mem- 
bers so that for decisions like these, there will 
still be people left who can decide. (There are 
three so that if they disagree, one can break the 
tie. Of course, as friends of the community, they 
decide the way the community asks them to. If 
any of the non-community board members went 
against the community's wishes, the community 
would vote them off the board and replace them 
with someone more sympathetic.) 

Title-holding Corporations — Collecting 
Income from "Passive" Sources 

The primary mission of Dancing Rabbit in 
Missouri is to research, document, and educate 
people about sustainable living, and so they use a 
501(c)3 non-profit to host workshops on sustain- 
able living and carry out their other educational 
activities. However, another part of their mission 
is to preserve their land as a sustainable ecovillage 
and prevent it form ever being sold for speculative 
gain. So they formed a land trust, and own their 
property with a 501(c)2 title-holding non-profit, 
from which members lease small siteholdings. 

A 50 1(c) 3 non-profit can own property, but 
no more than 20 percent of its income may be 


from "passive" sources (rents, lease fees, and 
interest on loans or investments), or it can lose 
its tax-exempt status. So 501(c)2 non-profits 
were created in order to hold, control, and man- 
age property and other assets for 50 1(c) 3 non- 
profits, and they are often used as the land- own- 
ing entity in land trusts and community land 
trusts. A 50 1(c) 2 cannot exist by itself, and must 
be paired with a 501(c)3. The 501(c)3 must 
exercise some control over its 50 1(c) 2, such as 
having the same board members on each non- 
profit's board. Unlike a 50 1(c) 3, a 50 1(c) 2 can- 
not actively engage in any business activities, 
other than collecting rents, receiving interest, 
and so on. The 501(c)2 turns over all its income 
to its parent 501(c) 3, and the two organizations 
file a consolidated tax return. 

Private Land Trusts — Protecting the 

A land trust is a legal mechanism to preserve the 
characteristics of a parcel of land, prevent it from 
ever being developed in an undesirable way, or 
protect it from being sold for speculative gain. 
Land trusts have been used to protect ecological- 
ly sensitive areas or the habitat of endangered 
species, preserve land as wilderness or farmland, 
and in urban areas, to protect affordable housing 
from the effects of escalating real estate values. A 
land trust either takes a property off the market 
forever or arranges that it can never be bought 
and sold at speculative market rates, or devel- 
oped in a way that the donors of the land trust 
don't want. Intentional communities have placed 
their properties in land trusts for various reasons 
— to preserve its rural or agrarian character, to 
protect virgin stands of timber, to keep it as 
farmland, or simply to preserve it as an ecovillage 
for future generations. 

Three parties are involved in a land trust. 

1. The donor or donors are land owners who 
place the property in the trust for specific 
purposes. They can be the original land own- 
ers, or people who buy the land in order to 
place it in the trust. 

2. The trustees or board of trustees administer 
the property and protect its mission. Selected 
for their alignment with the land trust's mis- 
sion and goals, the trustees make sure the 
property is preserved in accordance with 
them. Over the years outgoing trustees are 
replaced by incoming ones, so the trust can 
continue in perpetuity. 

3. The beneficiaries are the people and/or 
plants and animals who live on or otherwise 
benefit from the land. For a preserved wilder- 
ness the beneficiaries are its plants and ani- 
mals and the humans who hike its trails; for 
an affordable housing project the beneficiar- 
ies are the people who live there. 

The donors, trustees, and beneficiaries can all 
be the same people. Dancing Rabbit's founders 
purchased their property through their 501(c)2 
land trust entity (making them functionally 
equivalent to donors of a land trust), are mem- 
bers of its board of trustees, and benefit from liv- 
ing on and enjoying the land. 

A 501(c)3 and 501(c)2 non-profit are most 
often used for land trusts. The 501(c)2 holds 
actual title to the land and grants the beneficiar- 
ies long-term, renewable leases at reasonable 

Donors may deed their property to an exist- 
ing land trust organization in their region, which 
serves as the trustees for that and other proper- 
ties. Sometimes the donors have the right to live 
out their lives on the land, for example, if they 
donated their family farm to a land trust to be 
preserved as farmland. Other donors might 


donate their land as a wilderness area, in which 
case they wouldn't live there. The donor receives 
a one-time tax deduction for the appraised value 
of the property. In many circumstances, donors 
are required to pay $5,000 to $10,000 or more to 
the land trust's legal fund, so the organization 
can legally protect the property from any future 
threats to its mandated use. 

Or people may create their own land trust 
and serve as its only trustees, in which case it's 
called a "private land trust." Private land trusts 
can be either revocable or irrevocable. If it's revo- 
cable, the donors can change their minds and 
develop or sell the property for another use. 
Once land is placed into a land trust it can be dif- 
ficult to use as collateral for bank loans. 

Land can also be preserved by creating a con- 
servation easement, a legal restriction attached to 
its deed which limits all future use of the land to 
a specific purpose, such as to protect farmland, 
wetlands, a wilderness area, and so on. Sowing 
Circle created an "organic easement," possibly the 
first of its kind, to preserve its two locally-famous 
gardens as organically- managed in perpetuity. 

Community Land Trusts — An 
Irrevocable Decision 

A community land trust is designed to establish 
a stronger and broader board of trustees than 
those of a private land trust. While one-third of 
the trustees of a community land trust may live 
on the land (through lease agreements with the 
community land trust), two-thirds of the 
trustees must live elsewhere (be "disinterested"), 
receiving no direct benefit from the land. This 
ensures that any donors or beneficiaries who are 
also trustees cannot change their minds about 
the purpose or mission of the trust, or develop 
the land for some other purpose, or sell it. 
Having the majority of its trustees from the 

wider community serves to guarantee the mis- 
sion of the community land trust, because theo- 
retically they are more objective, and are not in a 
position to be tempted by gaining financially 
from any change in the use of the land. 

Community land trusts are irrevocable, 
which means the original owners of the land 
cannot remove it from the trust once they have 
donated it. As with private land trusts, once land 
is placed into a community land trust, it's not 
likely to be used as collateral for bank loans. 

Private land trusts, and community land 
trusts especially, are options for founders wish- 
ing to ensure that the original purpose for their 
community and its land continues unchanged 
into future generations, unaltered by subsequent 
requirements for quick cash, loss of commit- 
ment, or personality conflicts among members. 

For "Common Treasury" Communities — 
501 (d) Non-profit Corporations 

Originally designed for the Shakers and other 
"Religious and Apostolic Associations" in the 
1920s, 501(d) non-profits offer tax breaks for 
common-treasury religious communities that 
engage in business for the common benefit of 
their members. 501(d)s are also used by non- 
religious income- sharing communities, whose 
members work in one or more community busi- 
nesses, and which provide members' basic mate- 
rial needs — food, shelter, monthly stipends, and 
so on. (Again, to the IRS, "religious" and "apos- 
tolic" does not necessarily mean a traditionally 
recognized religion; communities with alterna- 
tive spiritual beliefs or secular beliefs have 
become 501(d)s.) The 501(d) tax status was 
originally created for groups that had taken a 
"vow of poverty," but Twin Oaks in Virginia suc- 
cessfully challenged this requirement, and the 
IRS no longer requires it. 


Some communities, such as Twin Oaks and 
the Hutterite communities, use a 501(d) to own 
their land as well as their businesses. Other com- 
munities own their properties with one of the 
other legal entities, but a smaller group of mem- 
bers — a sub-community within the community 
— use a 501(d) to own their own income-shar- 
ing business. Abundant Dawn, for example, owns 
its land with a non-exempt non-profit, but 
Tekiah, a pod (sub-community) of Abundant 
Dawn, operates its shared hammock-making and 
market garden businesses with a 501(d). Dancing 
Rabbit owns its land with a 501(c)2 non-profit, 
and Skyhouse, a subcommunity, operates 
Skyhouse Consulting, a computer programming 
and website design business, as a 501(d). (The 
IRS was initially somewhat dubious about 
Skyhouse's petition to be taxed as a 501(d), 
because a high-tech telecommuting business with 
skilled, well-paid professionals was nothing like 
the hammock-makers or Hutterite farmers they 
were used to. But Skyhouse members demon- 
strated they were every bit as devoted to income- 
sharing, common-treasury principles as any 
other group, and the IRS granted the status.) 

Advantages of 501(d) Non-profits 

The main advantage of a 501(d) is income tax 
savings. The taxable income of a 501(d) is divid- 
ed into equal parts and "passed through" to each 
member as if they were filing individual tax 
returns (as in an LLC or partnership). For exam- 
ple, if a group had 10 members and earned 
$100,000 one year, they'd each be assigned 
$10,000 as taxable income (even though they 
wouldn't actually receive it). Divided up like this, 
the rate of taxation is much lower than if it were 
one lump sum. A 501(d) can also choose not to 
pay self-employment taxes, which is often up to 
15 percent of the annual income. 

Depending on the amount of the communi- 
ty's annual income and how many members it 
has (and if it chooses not to pay self-employ- 
ment tax), the amount assigned to each commu- 
nity member may not be enough to warrant 
being taxed, which happens most years with 
Skyhouse subcommunity at Dancing Rabbit. 
However, if a 501(d) community has a high 
income and few members, then the amount 
passed through to each member may be high 
enough to pay taxes on, which has also happened 
with Skyhouse. In this case, the community pays 
the taxes on behalf of the member. 

If the community chooses not to pay self- 
employment tax they'll never get Social Security 
benefits and must set up some form of in-house 
retirement fund and take care of their members 
as they age. 501(d) groups can voluntarily pay 
self-employment tax to retain access to Social 

A 501(d) non-profit can engage in any kind 
of business, passive or active, religious or secular, 
since the IRS makes no distinction between 
related or unrelated income for a group with this 
tax status. A 501(d) can engage in any kind of 
political activity, such as lobbying, supporting 
candidates, or publicly advocating political caus- 
es. However, donations to a 501(d) community 
are not tax deductible, as donations to 501(c)3 
non-profits are. 

Communities organized as 501(d)s can 
choose their incoming members, and departing 
members may or may not receive equity when 
they leave, depending on the community's inter- 
nal agreements. 

Disadvantages of 501(d) Non-profits 

To use the 501(d) tax status the community must 
be "income-sharing" in the sense that they share 
income not only from community businesses but 


also from any outside jobs, investments, or other 
forms of income. If however, a substantial per- 
centage of community income is derived from 
outside salaries or other sources, the IRS may 
rescind or deny the 501(d) status. (Unfortunately 
the IRS has not clearly defined what it means by 
"substantial," so this remains a gray area.) For this 
reason, Twin Oaks asks any members who have 
significant assets such as real estate, securities, or 
savings accounts to place these in a trust for the 
duration of their community membership. 

Members of Meadowdance in Vermont are 
"income- sharing" in that they work at communi- 
ty-owned businesses, pool business income in a 
common pot, and provide their basic material 
needs from it. But, as mentioned earlier, they 
have a hybrid economy — each member is free 
to spend money from existing assets, and can 

earn extra money by working longer hours at 
community businesses, or working part-time 
outside the community. Meadowdance doesn't 
qualify for a 501(d) tax status nor does it want to 
be limited by the requirements of a 501(d), so 
they own their businesses as Limited Liability 

The 501(d) non-profit is not applicable for 
most communities, but if your group plans to 
share income from community businesses and 
provide most of your members' material needs, it 
can offer an ideal way to save on the tax bite. 

In Part Three we'll return to the essence of grow- 
ing a healthy community — the "people skills." 

Part Three: 

Thriving in Community 

Enriching the Soil 

^Chapter 1 7^ 

Communication, Process, and Dealing with 
Conflict: The Heart of Healthy Community 

When Larry Kaplowitz and his wife 
Karin moved to Lost Valley in 1994, they 
arrived a few weeks after more than half the 
members had moved away for various personal 
reasons unrelated to the community. The 
remaining four members had desperately needed 
help for the community's conference center busi- 
ness and put out the call for new people. Larry 
and Karin were part of ten newcomers who 
joined in response. The rapid turnover was diffi- 
cult for everyone. 

"Here, suddenly were ten of us; enthusiastic, 
full of our own hopes and ideas, hurts and 
defenses, and relatively short on the kind of 
experience it takes to make community living 
work," Larry recalls. "Lost Valleys community 
culture, delicately woven over the previous years, 
couldn't survive the onslaught. We began to sink 
in misunderstandings, resentment, and conflict." 

"Within a year, conflict had practically para- 
lyzed us. In our weekly business meetings, where 
we make decisions by consensus, almost every 
new idea or initiative, if not rejected outright, 
was resisted or undermined. Some people had 
become so uncomfortable with each other that 
they would go out of their way to avoid crossing 

paths. Resentments simmered but were rarely 
expressed directly, except in occasional outbursts 
of anger. At times the tension was so thick we 
felt like we were choking on it." 

Eventually the people who were most at odds 
with each other left the community, and things 
improved a bit. But the experience had left peo- 
ple feeling hurt, discouraged, and cautious. For 
the next year, Lost Valley accepted no new mem- 
bers. People did their own thing and tried to stay 
out of each other's way. 

"By the summer of '96 every one of us was 
frustrated, dissatisfied, and considering leaving," 
Larry says. "We agreed that if we were going to 
survive as a community we needed major change, 
which meant we would have to face our difficult 
issues directly." 

Serendipitously, they learned about the Naka- 
Ima training. A Japanese phrase meaning "here 
now," Naka-Ima is an interpersonal healing 
method designed to help people reveal themselves 
honestly and connect with each other deeply. So 
the Lost Valley folks signed themselves up. 

"By the end of the weekend training," Larry 
recalls, "the obstacles we all had in the way of 
being clear, compassionate, and honest with each 



other seemed to have dissolved, leaving a room 
full of radiant beings. We knew that the glow' 
would come and go, and that our obstacles, 
defenses, and wounds would continue to play 
havoc with us. But they no longer had the same 
power over us. As we integrated what we'd expe- 
rienced over the next few weeks and months, we 
became increasingly honest with each other. We 
began taking the time to stop and address issues, 
conflicts, and hurts. We began making space for 
each other to express our feelings." 

To save their community from continued 
stalemate and decline, Lost Valley members 
embraced what I call "good process" — commu- 
nication skills and other techniques that help 
people feel connected and stay connected. Like 
great community property and a healthy internal 
economy, "good process" is another foundation 
for sustainable community. Learning good 
process skills nourishes the soil of healthy com- 
munity. Not learning them is another set-up for 
structural conflict. 

The "Rock Polisher" Effect 

Most people drawn to intentional community 
are seeking a more harmonious and connected 
way of life than that of mainstream society. But 
we can't just wish it into existence. If we want to 
live better lives in community, we've got to do 
things differently there. 

Most of us don't realize that our wider socie- 
ty is dysfunctional because it's just ourselves, 
doing what we habitually do, but multiplied and 
magnified by millions of people. When we see 
governments or corporations using manipula- 
tive, controlling, or punishing behaviors — 
through threats, terrorist attacks, or outright war 
— it frightens and disgusts us. But when we do 
the small-scale versions of these same ploys our- 
selves, we don't see it. We may revile "terrorists," 

but what about our own choice of words and 
tone of voice this morning with our partner or 
child? Those of us who think we do these behav- 
iors the least are often the ones who do them the 
most. The more spiritual we imagine we are, the 
harder it is to see it. 

This is why good process is so important to 
community. For life in community to be better 
than it was before, we've got to be better than we 
were before. In fact, we need good process skills 
more when we're involved in community, since 
the community process tends to trigger faster- 
than- normal spiritual and emotional growth. 
The "crucible of community" tends to magnify 
and reflect back to us our own most destructive 
or alienating attitudes and behaviors. We 
become magnifying mirrors for each other. The 
more intensely we dislike these attitudes and 
behaviors in other community members the 
more likely we have them in ourselves (or used to 
have them), although we may be unaware of it. 
The more we criticize other people for them, the 
more likely that we're unconsciously condemn- 
ing ourselves for doing the same. 

The close and frequent interactions with 
other community members about how we'll live 
and work together tends to evoke some of our 
worst and most destructive behaviors. And 
potentially, it can heal them. I call this the "rock 
polisher" effect. Rocks in a rock tumbler first 
abrade and then polish each other. In forming- 
community groups and communities our rough 
edges are often brought up and then worn 
smoother by frequent contact with everyone 
else's. But the rock-polisher effect can be so 
painful it ejects some people right out of the 
group, or the group becomes so fraught with 
conflict that it breaks up. 

Through good community process we can 
make the rock-polisher effect more conscious. 


Rather than suffer helplessly, we can use com- 
munity as a powerful opportunity for personal 
growth. The process of sharing resources and 
making decisions cooperatively in community 
— and no longer being able to get away with 
our usual behaviors — is a wake-up call to the 
soul. Community offers us the chance to finally 
grow up. 

Nourishing Sustainable Relationships 

"At Lost Valley we learned that sustainable com- 
munity must be based on sustainable relation- 
ships — relationships that give more than they 
take — that nourish, enliven, and inspire us," 
says Larry Kaplowitz. "Such relationships are a 
continual source of energy. They support us in 
becoming fully ourselves." 

As youd expect, the same kinds of communi- 
cation and process skills that enhance love rela- 
tionships do the same in community — sharing 
from the heart, listening to each other deeply, 
telling difficult truths without making each 


Some communities, such as Sharinswood Cohousing in 
Washington state, help maintain well-being in the com- 
munity by establishing a team of consensus and process 
facilitators whose job it is to train meeting facilitators, 
introduce process methods (sharing circles, threshing 
meetings, the public/private scale, and so on), and keep 
an eye out for potential conflicts, intervene when neces- 
sary. "Get your best facilitators and the people most inter- 
ested in process," says Sharingwood process facilitator 
Rob Sandelin. "Encourage them and give them funds to 
get training in and bring back good process techniques 
back to the group. The investment of time and money in 
good group process will more than pay for itself in com- 
munity health and well being over the long run." 

other wrong. This includes speaking to and per- 
ceiving others in ways that allow us to stay in 
beneficial relationships with them while dis- 
cussing even the most sensitive subjects. 

Here are some'good process skills" communi- 
ties often use to create sustainable relationships: 

Speaking more consciously. This involves speak- 
ing to one another in ways that tend to increase, 
rather than decrease, the level of harmony and 
well-being between people. When communica- 
tion is "clean" enough, people feel confident they 
can talk to each other about anything, including 
disagreements or sensitive issues, and still feel 
goodwill and connection. These include using T" 
rather than "you" messages, checking assump- 
tions, describing feelings with real feeling words 
("angry," "worried") instead of blame- words ("crit- 
icized," "manipulated"), and using neutral lan- 
guage to describe behaviors rather than charac- 
terizing people negatively. 

The most effective communication skills I've 
found are those of Marshall Rosenberg's 
Nonviolent Communication process, which help 
people speak to each other in ways that tell the 
deepest truths while enhancing goodwill and 
deepening their connection. Many resources are 
available for learning these and other basic good 
communication skills (see Resources). 

It takes time, energy, and willingness to change 
the ways we habitually talk with people, so that 
our conversations enhance, rather than diminish, 
our relationships. At first these methods may feel 
"unnatural." It helps to remember that all commu- 
nication skills, including those we use now, are 
learned behaviors, and we can learn new ones. 

Creating communication agreements. Conflict 
can arise because of the widely differing commu- 
nication styles and behavioral norms that people 


bring to community from different regions, sub- 
cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds. So 
some groups agree on and write down explicit 
communication and behavioral agreements. For 
example, is jumping in before someone has fin- 
ished speaking considered a disrespectful inter- 
ruption, or normal lively conversation? Is coming 
directly to the point considered respectful of each 
others time, or brusque and preemptory? Are 
using swear words or explicitly sexual expressions 
of anger considered no big deal, or way out of 
line? Is inquiring about each other's romantic, sex- 
ual, financial, or health matters seen as friendly 
and intimacy-creating, or an invasion of privacy? 

Check-ins: Check-ins can occur before decision- 
making meetings, or in separate meetings. 
Everyone around the circle tells what's going on 
in their lives at that time, their feelings about it, 
and perhaps their hopes and dreams about it. No 
one interrupts or responds — there's no sympa- 
thizing, criticizing, or offering advice. Usually 
there's a time limit, such as five or ten minutes 
per person. 

Abundant Dawn allows 15 to 30 minutes of 
check-in time at the beginning of business meet- 
ings for members to let each other know what's 
going on that may affect how they communicate 
in the meeting, as well as any events that may 
affect community business itself. "If we just 
learned that someone's father died that week, for 
example," says member Joy Legendre/then we'll all 
know why he hasn't been his normal self lately." 

Sharing circles: Sharing circles are also some- 
times wisdom circles, the talking stick process, 
listening circles, heart shares, or the council 
process. These are sessions in which people share 
what's true for them and listen to each other 
deeply. Inspired by the Native American talking 

stick process, the purpose is not to solve prob- 
lems or make decisions, but to explore issues and 
learn together, share personal stories and become 
closer to each other, or hear everyone's truth, 
pain, or joy about community issues. 

People usually sit in a circle. Candles and rit- 
ual objects, including a small object such as a 
talking stick or a stone, are placed in the center. 
One person at a time picks up the talking stick 
or object and speaks from the heart. This means 
being honest and real, and allowing any emo- 
tions that might come up. It involves taking the 
risk to speak your truth without knowing how it 
will be received. Speaking from the heart often 
opens the door for others to do the same. 

As in the check-in process, everyone listens 
respectfully, and no one comments (although in 
groups that follow Native American traditions, 
people often say "ho!" if the speaker's words have 
touched them deeply). When the speaker is fin- 
ished, the talking stick or ritual object is 
returned to the center, and there a short period 
of silence. The next person moved to speak does 
so, and then others, until everyone who wishes to 
speak has had a turn. Not every person needs to 
speak. In some sharing circles no one speaks 
twice; other groups encourage individuals to 
speak two or three times. 

In another version of this process, when each 
speaker finishes, the ritual object is passed to the 
person on the left, who speaks next, and so on 
around the circle. Some groups go around at 
least three or four times, with each person taking 
one to three minutes each. 

The Roots of Conflict: Emotionally- 
charged Needs 

"Most of the time we no longer resist conflict, or 
ignore it, or try to tiptoe around it," says Larry 
Kaplowitz ."We've come to see it as an opportunity 


to identify our patterns, to uncover and heal our 
old wounds and distress. We're usually willing to 
stop what we're doing and address conflict, get to 
the root of it, and clear it. 

"But we've accepted that it's not an instant 
process, nor a tidy one. Lifelong patterns don't 
give up the ghost without a fight. Sometimes we 
fall back on our denial and avoidance for days 

and weeks until it gets unbearable, but eventual- 
ly someone always musters up enough courage or 

annoyance to shout 'Enough!'" 

Community process consultant Laird 

Schaub defines conflict as at least two people 

having different viewpoints about something, 

with at least one of them having an emotional 

charge on the matter. Conflict also seems to be a 


1. Ignore and suppress it. Rarely a conscious 
choice, but rather a lifelong avoidance pattern, this 
response erodes the quality of well-being in a group. 
Your members might not notice the buried resent- 
ments accumulating over time, but visitors certainly 
will. "Why does this group feel so heavy?" And like try- 
ing to squash beach balls by pushing them under the 
rug, ignored conflict always pops up somewhere. 

2. Leave it. Leave the subject, leave the room, leave 
the group or the community. Another popular, mostly 
unconscious choice, this is usually a lose/lose situa- 
tion, for the person and for the group. 

3. Leap into it aggressively. Some people thrive on 
conflict, and enjoy how emotionally alive they feel 
when sparring with others. They may crave emotional 
intensity,- or believe that aggressive criticism is equiva- 
lent to "being honest." They may unconsciously want 
to recreate a negative but familiar experience from 
early childhood. Some people may not experience 
their feelings consciously, so yelling at others gets 
them in touch with suppressed anger, and it feels 
great to let it out. Other people can only feel connect- 
ed with someone once they've had a fight — as if 
they're testing someone's solidity or strength before 
they can trust them. By leaping into conflict people 

may meet their own needs for aliveness, authenticity, 
healing, connection, or trust, but their strategy of fight- 
ing with people to meet these needs can drive others 
right out of the room and right out of the group. 

4. Change how you feel about it. In this response to 
conflict, emotional upsets are considered opportuni- 
ties for personal growth and spiritual development. 
You don't address issues that upset you, but rather go 
deeply into any anger, fear, or sadness as a result of the 
problem in order to release these feelings and enter a 
state of tranquility. This can empower individual mem- 
bers, and certainly prevents angry confrontations in 
the group, but it doesn't necessarily empower the 
whole community or help create sustainable relation- 
ships. Gary may continue blasting his loud music at 
3:00 am and annoy the hell out of everyone else, no 
matter that you've become enlightened because of it. 

5. Use the conflict to strengthen the community. 

Lastly you can use conflict to generate more under- 
standing and connection, and make changes in 
behavior to improve how everyone gets along — in 
other words, use it as part of "good process." 
Handled well, dealing with conflict can make a com- 
munity stronger, more connected, and lighthearted in 
the long run. 


multi-layered process. On the surface it may 
seem to be about differences in ideologies, prior- 
ities, and values, especially about such controver- 
sial community issues as children, food, labor 
requirements, and pets. But below that layer, it 
seems to be about fear, guilt, or resentment, and 
below that, deep longings from early childhood 
for certain basic human needs — for acceptance, 
approval, control, love, and so on. 

Psychologists recognize that besides physical 
needs for food, water, warmth, and so on, certain 
emotional needs must be met for infants and chil- 
dren to develop into emotionally healthy adults 
— including nurturing, affection, love, accept- 
ance, empathy, connection, being valued, and 
being respected, to name a few. When an infant or 
child doesn't experience nurturing and affection in 
adequate amounts, for example, these needs can 
become highly charged because they're associated 
with the pain of loss, which creates the uncon- 
scious fear that the person will never get enough 
nurturing or affection. Hence, buried pain from 
long-ago unmet emotional needs can trigger con- 
flict in community 20, 30, and 40 years later. 

Having deeply-buried emotionally charged 
needs is not the problem. The problem is believ- 
ing that at some level that community will some- 
how meet these needs. The secret, silent demand 
that community or other community members 
must provide what seems to be missing adds a 
cutting edge to conflict. This is why arguments 
about what on the surface seem like ideologies, 
priorities, or values, can be so intense. I may 
assume that community means valuing inclusion 
(because I desperately needed acceptance as a 
child and didn't get it); you may assume commu- 
nity means freedom for each of us to do our own 
thing (because you desperately needed autonomy 
as a child and didn't get it). So we end up having 
fierce fights about what "community" means. 

What can we do about it? We can develop 
good communication and process skills, learn to 
accept and welcome feedback and do course-cor- 
rection when necessary, find ways to heal our 
individual issues, and deal constructively with 
conflict when it arises. 

High Woundedness, High Willingness 

"We've learned that it's the little things — the 
minor hurts, the small resentments, the petty 
judgments about each other — that subtly yet per- 
vasively undermine and limit the degree of well- 
being in our relationships," says Larry Kaplowitz. 
"Even a small degree of mistrust can prevent us 
from really being open with each other. Uncleared, 
this can quickly spiral downward into disconnec- 
tion, avoidance, more resentment, and conflict." 

Clearing these issues often involves offering 
feedback, by which I mean telling someone 
about something they did or said and how it 
affected you negatively. 


Cohousing founders tend to excel at the logistics of form- 
ing a community — acquiring land and financing, and 
dealing with development — but tend to stumble over 
interpersonal communication, often becoming 
embroiled in intractable conflict once they move into 
their beautifully constructed buildings. Founders of non- 
cohousing communities, however, often stumble over 
business and financial hurdles but seem to instinctively 
value good process and communication skills. (Founders 
of more recently built cohousing communities, however, 
seem more aware that the human connection is as impor- 
tant as the construction loan.) We certainly need both 
sets of skills! Let's hope members of cohousing and non- 
cohousing communities will learn from one another, and 
we'll all benefit. 


Many people attracted to community have so 
many highly charged unmet needs that they are 
easily triggered into hurt, anger, and defensive- 
ness. They give feedback in brusque, unskilled 
ways and resist any feedback that others try to 
offer them. They have what I call "high wound- 
edness." Yet others attracted to community, 
equally wounded, are also willing to do what it 
takes to heal themselves and learn good process 
skills. Such people have what I see as "high will- 
ingness and high woundedness." Even though 
dealing with critical feedback is difficult, they 
often learn good communication skills well 
enough to give feedback compassionately, and 
develop enough self-esteem to hear and thought- 
fully consider any negative feedback offered by 
others. They often become community's best 
facilitators, counselors, and mediators. 

Before dealing with the art of giving and 
receiving feedback, however, let's examine some 
common kinds, as well as some common sources, 
of community conflict. 

Seven Kinds of Community Conflict We 
Wish We'd Left Behind 

Here are how certain habitual "old paradigm," 
"dominator culture" behaviors and attitudes are 
often expressed when transplanted to intention- 
al community. We can begin to dismantle these 
behaviors in ourselves by first realizing that if we 
want to live more sustainably and harmoniously 
in community than we did in mainstream cul- 
ture we've got to change ourselves too! 

1. Founder's Syndrome (I). Unconsciously 
assigning parent and authority figure roles to 
founders and acting out adolescent rebellion and 
self-identity issues by resenting, undermining, 
and/or challenging the community founders' wis- 
dom or experience, and/or the validity or relevance 

of the community's values, vision, or purpose. 

2. Founder's Syndrome (II). Founders' clinging 
to an unconscious self-image as parents or 
authority figures; assuming a wiser, superior, or 
more privileged status than other members; and 
resenting, undermining, or challenging any 
efforts to question the founders' authority or 
otherwise offer the community innovation, new 
perspectives, or change. 

3. Visionary Abuse. When dynamic, energetic, 
visionary founders, burning with a spiritual, 
environmental, or social-justice mission, work 
grueling hours in primitive, cramped, uncom- 
fortable, or health-risking conditions, and happi- 
ly expect all members, interns, and apprentices to 
do the same. Related to eco-macho, sustainabler 
than thou, campground macho ("We all lived in 
tents for three years with no heat, electricity, or 
running water, and you should too"), and com- 
munity macho ("Community is not for wimps: 
we can take it, can you?"). 

4. Violating community agreements. The 

resentment and erosion of community trust that 
occur when a few people don't follow the com- 
munity's agreements and policies consistently, 
while others follow and uphold them. 

5. Letting people get away with violating com- 
munity agreements. The further resentment, 
erosion of trust, and breakdown of community 
well-being that results when a member isn't 
called on disregarding agreements and so contin- 
ues disregarding them. By default the person 
becomes a kind of community aristocrat with 
the privilege of living outside the normal rules. 
Often perpetuated by interpersonal power 


6. Interpersonal (as compared to "structural") 
power imbalances. Conflict, resentment, and 
the breakdown of trust in community when 
some members have more power than others 
because of behaviors that others are reluctant to 
or afraid to deal with. These can include: 

• Intimidation power: Habitually emanating 
anger, suppressed rage, "panic-anger," and 
burning intensity; speaking sharply or 
harshly, bossing people around, criticiz- 
ing people frequently, and sometimes 
name-calling and shouting people down. 
The person with intimidation power 
wields power over other members 
because it's difficult to muster the courage 
or energy to disagree with their opinions 
or ask them to change their demeanor. 
People may have tried many times to ask 
for change and have given up, or the per- 
son is now less aggressive as a result of 
past feedback and others are too worn 
down to ask for further change, or the 
person also offers such beneficial qualities 
that others resign themselves to having a 
mixed blessing and let it go. 

• Undermining power: "Bad-mouthing," dis- 
crediting, and undermining another per- 
son's behavior and/or character to other 
community members; assuming the 
worst about the targeted person's motives 
and then criticizing those motives to oth- 
ers ("He's just trying to rip us off," "She's 
just trying to control everyone"); not dis- 
tinguishing between one's own fears 
about the person and objective reality; 
not talking about these concerns with the 
targeted person or setting up a third- 
party mediation. The undermining per- 
son wields power over others in the com- 
munity because s/he operates behind 

people's backs, and others are reluctant to 
voice concerns about this behavior for 
fear they'll be targeted next. 

• Hypersensitive power: Reacting to even 
mildly worded feedback or requests for 
change as though it were an intolerable 
personal attack; becoming visibly upset 
when others disagree with one's views or 
beliefs; responding with such defensive- 
ness and self-justification so that people 
give up: "You can't tell Reginald anything." 
This wields power over other community 
members because no one has the energy 
or patience to deal with this person's high 
level of fear and drama. People with 
hypersensitive power, like those with 
intimidating or undermining power, 
maintain their power over others because 
they rarely receive feedback. 

7. Assuming the worst about other people's 
motives. Resenting and criticizing someone not 
only for what they may have done, but also for 
the assumed "worst-case scenario" motives for 
their actions (He's trying to cheat us," "She just 
wants to bully everyone," "He's always trying to 
show off") and using these assumptions as proof 
of the person's malfeasance or character flaws 
without (1) realizing these are assumptions, not 
facts, and (2) not asking the person if the 
assumptions are true. 

Twenty-four Common Sources of 
Community Conflict 

"Structural Conflict" Set-ups 

1. Vision and values differences. Arguments 
over how money should be spent, or how time 
and labor should be allocated, based on differing 
values or visions about the community. (See 
Chapter 4.) 


2. "Structural" power imbalances. Resentment 
and blame arising from real or perceived power 
differences in terms of how decisions are made 
and who makes them, or who has more influence 
than others in the group, either because of per- 
suasive influence, expertise, or seniority in the 
community. (See "Interpersonal power imbal- 
ances," above.) 

3. Exhausting, divisive, or unproductive meet- 
ings. Resentment and anger from too-frequent, 
overlong, or dragging meetings that accomplish 
little and go nowhere, or meetings characterized 
by resentment or hostility. (See Chapter 6.) 

4. Lack of crucial information. Arguments about 
whose fault it is that we're suddenly stopped in 
our tracks, or must raise unexpected funds 
because we didn't adequately research something 
earlier; for example, not knowing that our local 
zoning regulations don't permit our planned pop- 
ulation density or clustered housing, or not know- 
ing composting toilets are illegal in our county. 

5. Remembering verbal agreements differently. 

Eruptions of resentment, blame, or hostility 
because some community members appear to be 
dishonest or trying to cheat others, because we 
all remember our financial or other agreements 
differently. We can't just look up the agreements 
because we didn't write them down. (See 
Chapter 7.) 

6. No communication or behavioral agree- 
ments. Misunderstandings and resentments 
because group members have widely divergent 
communication styles or behavioral norms. 
What are our norms for how people talk to each 
another, or express disagreement and strong 

7. No processes for accountability. Resentment, 
blame, and flying accusations because some of us 
didn't do what we said we'd do, and certain proj- 
ects can't move forward because some earlier 
tasks are unfinished, causing us to lose money or 
miss important opportunities. 

8. No membership criteria or new-member 
screening process. Resentment and mistrust 
arising because new people enter who don't share 
our values and vision, don't align with our com- 
munity culture, or can't meet our financial and 
labor requirements. (See Chapter 18.) 

9. Being swamped with too many new mem- 
bers at once. Disorientation, overwhelm, 
depression, loss, or panic because the "container" 
of our shared history, values, and culture is 
threatened or damaged by the sudden influx of 
more people than we can assimilate easily. 
(Forming community groups and communities 
do better to add new members slowly.) 

10. High turnover. Disorientation, overwhelm, 
depression, and associated emotions because too 
high a percentage of members are continually 
coming and going for the community to estab- 
lish a sense of itself. The center does not hold; 
there's no "there" there. 

Differences in Work and Planning Styles 

11. Processors vs. Doers. Conflict between 
group members who want to process emotions or 
clear up points of meeting procedure, and those 
who want to focus on facts, strategies, and "real" 
things, but who sometimes override other peo- 
ple's feelings or ignore agreed-upon procedures. 

12. Planners vs. Doers. Tension between those 
who want to gather facts and data and make 


long-term plans before taking action, and those 
who want to leap in and get started. 

13. Spiritual vs. physical manifesters. 

Annoyance and impatience between those who 
want to use visualization, affirmation, or prayer 
as the primary means to manifest community 
but may not feel comfortable with budgets, 
mortgages, shovels, or power tools, and those 
who want to use strategic plans, cash flow pro- 
jections, and work parties as the primarily means 
to manifest community, but are leery of "invisible 

14. Differences in information processing. 

Disrespecting, dismissing or devaluing people 
who may process information differently (visual- 
ly rather than aurally, in wholes rather than step 
by step), or at a different pace than we do. 

15. Differences in communication style. 

Socioliguistic differences based on region, eth- 
nicity, subculture, socio-economic background, 
gender, or whether a member has lived in com- 
munities for decades or just arrived from the 

Fairness Issues 

16. Work imbalances, or perceived imbalances. 

Resentment toward those who work less often or 
less rigorously on community projects than we 
do, or than they've previously agreed to. 

17. Financial issues. Arguments over who's 
expected to pay for what, and if and when 
money can be reimbursed. Resentment and ten- 
sion over the relationship between financial con- 
tribution and the amount of influence in deci- 

18. Time-crunch issues. Disagreements about 
the amount of time spent in meetings and on 
community tasks versus, time with one's family 
or household. Conflict over the best times to 
schedule meetings or community projects so 
they're convenient for everyone. Arguments over 
how consistently community members should 
contribute to the group and whether it's OK to 
take periodic breaks. 

19. Gender imbalance and power-over issues. 
Power imbalances and resentments if there are 
considerably more members of one gender than 
another, or one gender dominating some areas, 
or one gender consistently teasing, behaving sug- 
gestively towards, or dominating the other. 

Neighbor Issues 

20. Behavioral norms. Conflict over what's con- 
sidered acceptable behavior in community; for 
example, to what degree people might intervene in 
or restrain potentially unacceptable, unsafe, or 
destructive behavior of other people, their chil- 
dren, or their animals. Can community members 
request changes in parents' child-raising style, or 
request that others restrain, train, or fence their 
animals? What are standards of acceptable behav- 
ior outside the community, where someone's 
behavior might reflect on the community? 

21. Boundary issues. Tension about what com- 
munity members do on their homesites, in their 
adjacent homes, or shared common spaces, that 
can be seen or heard by others, including what 
noises may too loud or disruptive to others dur- 
ing certain hours or what physical objects might 
be an eyesore to others. What behaviors — such 
as disciplining children, having loud arguments, 
butchering livestock, drinking, taking drugs, 
nudity, displays of affection, or sexual expression 


— are fine for some to overhear or view are fine 
and which are "over the line." To what degree 
can fellow community members borrow each 
other's personal items without asking? What 
degree of playful, affectionate, or sensual physi- 
cal touch is welcome to some and unwelcome to 

22. Care and maintenance issues. Conflict 
about standards for taking care of and maintain- 
ing jointly owned equipment or tools, and who's 

23. Cleanliness and order issues. Tension over 
standards for cleanliness in common rooms, and 
cleanliness of jointly used items and how they're 
stored, particularly in kitchens and bathrooms, 
and who's responsible. 

24. Lifestyle issues. Conflict arising from items 
some members may own or activities they may 
enjoy privately — smoking, liquor, drugs, guns, 
pesticides, and meat eating — which may be no 
big deal for some but disturbing to others. 
Conflict over the degree to which relationships 
between families, couples, or households may be 
the business of other members, such as parents' 
discipline or lack of discipline with children, 
open marriages, polyfidelitous relationships, or 
gay or bisexual relationships. To what degree is 
how people treat each other in their love relation- 
ships the business of other community members? 

Every one of these conflicts can be reduced or 
prevented by well-crafted agreements and proce- 
dures, good training in group process, or both. 

The Fine Art of Offering Feedback 

Offering feedback is not an attempt to assess or 
guess or criticize the person's intentions or 
motives. If you do that, it'll probably trigger 

defensiveness and escalate the problem. And 
although you can also request that the person do 
things differently in the future, this can also 
make things worse, if wanting the person to 
change is the only reason you're giving the feed- 

"Get in touch with your motives for offering 
feedback," advises process consultant Paul 
DeLapa. "If your intention is to offer informa- 
tion about how the person's actions or behavior 
affected you, there's a good chance the person can 
hear and accept it. But if your motive is to 
change them, it probably won't work." 

Don't try to convince or coerce them. "People 
don't resist change itself as much as they resist 
'being changed'," says Paul. So offering feedback 
can support someone's own willingness to 
change something if the feedback is offered in a 
way that doesn't register as a demand or as an 
implication that they're somehow bad or wrong. 

How you say it has everything to do with how 
feedback will be received. It requires all the best 
communication skills we can muster — using 
neutral language, describing what the person actu- 
ally did rather than assessing his or her character 
or motives, and using real feeling words rather 
than blame-words. Again, the best process I know 
of for offering feedback constructively comes from 
the Nonviolent Communication process. 

Receiving Feedback — Listening for 
Kernels of Truth 

Even if you learn to offer feedback skillfully, 
much of the critical feedback you may hear 
about yourself could be delivered in a graceless 
manner. Even people committed to good process 
can still speak awkwardly or harshly when 
they're trying to deliver a difficult message. You 
could get feedback that implies or outright states 
that you're wrong, bad, or defective in some way. 


You can hear guesses and presumptions about 
your motives stated as facts. You can be told you 
"always" do such-and-such or "never" do such- 
and-such. You can be armchair-psychoanalyzed 
as to what childhood factors cause your malfea- 
sance. This can be so painful it completely 
obscures the important information the person 
is trying to give you. 

Hearing critical feedback can hurt. Not only 
because of any harshness in the delivery but also 
because of the possibility that, to whatever 
extent, it may be true. It helps to keep some prin- 
ciples in mind: 

1. Just because feedback is delivered in a critical, 
exaggerated, or hostile manner doesn't mean 
it doesn't contain a kernel of truth — or 
maybe a lot of truth. 

2. On the other hand, it could be a projection of 
the person's own issues onto you, with noth- 
ing to do with your own actions or behaviors. 

3. And even when delivered skillfully, feedback 
might still be exaggerated, or partially or 
wholly invalid. 

Hearing critical feedback requires at least 
two skills: the ability to respond to the person in 
a way that doesn't make things worse — for you, 
for them, and for the whole community; and lis- 
tening for the kernel of truth in what they say 
and finding ways to check it out objectively. 

Suppose Jason says:"I'm annoyed and frustrat- 
ed by the mess in the kitchen after you've used it. 
I've been cleaning up after you and I'm getting 
tired of it. I wish you'd clean up after you're done." 

Constructive responses could include 
(depending on how accurate you think Jason's 
observation may be): "Thanks for telling me," or 
"Thanks, I'll consider that," or "Thanks, I'll do 
something about it," or just"Thanks." 

But what if he'd said: "You're a slob who 
leaves a mess every time you use the kitchen! We 
always have to clean up after you!" With a mes- 
sage like this, it can take a great deal of patience 
and tolerance not to retaliate in kind. If you do, 
you, Jason, and the whole community will prob- 
ably feel worse. If you respond more neutrally as 
suggested above, you'll have helped the commu- 
nity's well-being by not adding to the burden of 
ill will Jason has just dumped into it. 

How do you know when feedback is true? 
Introspection, self-observation, and any manner 
of self-awareness techniques, including asking 
for inner guidance, can help you assess its degree 
of truth. Even better, you can ask other commu- 
nity members directly. I recommend doing this 
in relatively straightforward way, for example: 
"Excuse me, Sally, do I sometimes leave a mess in 
the kitchen?" 

Sally could say/You sure do. I've been mean- 
ing to tell you about it. Would you please take 
more time to clean up after you're done?" 

Or she could say, "Hmmm, let me see. Well, 
maybe once or twice, but not all the time." 

Asking various people and getting a consis- 
tent response one way or the other is one way to 
gauge the accuracy of someone's feedback. 
Asking questions in a straightforward way gives 
you a better chance of getting neutral, accurate 

But suppose you felt so hurt or angry by how 
Jason criticized you that you exaggerated and 
"horriblized" what he said when you tried to ver- 
ify it: "Jason says I'm a horrible slob who always 
leaves a mess in the kitchen and everywhere I go. 
He says everyone always has to clean up after me! 
Is that true?" 

This defeats your chances of getting accurate 
feedback, because Sally would probably say 
something like: "Of course not! You don't leave 


messes everywhere!" And you'll have missed the 
kernel of truth that you do, in fact, sometimes 
leave a messy kitchen. 

We can help create sustainable relationships 
by giving feedback as skillfully as we can, without 
expecting or demanding that other people are any 
good at it. We can sift through any graceless or 
harsh criticism for whatever helpful truths about 
ourselves we can glean. This is a lot to ask. Yet it's 
the rock polisher in action, and it's one of the best 
ways we can use community to grow and heal 
ourselves and strengthen our relationships there. 


If several people say give us the same feedback, maybe 
we should do something about it. But what? How can 
we get along better with each other, and help our lives 
become happier, lighter, and more enjoyable? 

"Thought field therapy" is a relatively new method 
for releasing hurts and wounds from the past that may 
be influencing perceptions and attitudes in the present. 
I've tried various therapies over the years, but never 
found anything so effective, painless, cheap, and fast. It 
can take only three or four sessions, for example, to 
make a noticeable difference. Thought field therapy 
doesn't require re-experiencing or even understanding 
old upsets, or using visualization or affirmations. It's 
essentially a mechanical technique involving certain 
acupuncture points, but without the needles, and one 
can do it at home, without a therapist. It seems to work 
by healing issues at the core — for me it's like pressing 
the "erase" button on a tape recorder, unbelievable 
though that sounds. I recommend this healing tool for 
any community members seeking an exceptionally fast 
and simple way to peel away the negative layers that 
can get in the way of sustainable relationships. (See 

Threshing Meetings 

"The amount of time and energy conflict can 
suck out of a community can endanger its viabil- 
ity," says Dave Henson of Sowing Circle/OAEC. 
He's right — and it's everyone's business to 
resolve small conflicts before they become com- 
munity-wide conflagrations. 

Most communities profiled in this book have 
regular meetings to unearth small conflicts before 
they escalate to larger ones. Threshing meetings 
are like safety valves that periodically let off pres- 
sure, and can include giving appreciative as well as 
critical feedback, venting frustration or anger, 
asking people for specific changes in behavior, or 
simply exploring controversial issues. 

Using processes like threshing meetings to 
handle conflicts early, when they're small, often 
prevents them from mushrooming into major 
conflagrations later on. It's also much easier for a 
group to resolve large conflicts once they've 
learned to handle smaller ones. 

Abundant Dawn members set aside an hour 
and a half twice monthly for what they call "per- 
sonal/interpersonal time." People describe what's 
going on in their lives, says Joy Legendre, as well 
as delve into any conflicts. "Just knowing that 
space is there for us to bring these issues up helps 
defuse the little tensions and problems. It's easi- 
er to let them go and not get bothered by them, 
just knowing that we can always discuss them at 
the meeting." 

But they're not called "threshing" meetings 
for nothing. "Public feedback sessions can be 
risky," cautions process consultant Paul 
DeLapa, "because it risks undermining trust 
between people instead of building trust." Many 
people aren't willing to offer feedback one-on- 
one, and will criticize people behind their backs 
rather than speak to them directly. In public 


feedback sessions such as threshing meetings 
these are usually the people who suddenly feel 
free to unleash the floodgates of pent-up frus- 
tration and resentment. For the person receiv- 
ing the feedback it can feel as thought they're 
being ganged up on. If everyone in a group 
plans to give one member feedback, Paul rec- 
ommends that the person sets up some bound- 
aries, such as what kind of feedback they'd be 
willing to hear, and how theyd prefer it be 
delivered. Establishing some boundaries first 
empowers the person and helps them feel less 

But in some circumstances feedback offered 
in a group setting can be easier to take than 
one-on-one. If Vaughan gives Sally critical feed- 
back, and other group members say they've 
never had that experience themselves, it could 
offer Sally a wider perspective and lessen the 
sting. And if Vaughan were to offer feedback in 
a harsh way, other, more skilled communicators 
could intervene, and remind him to alter his 

The public/private scale exercise, first sug- 
gested for the visioning process can help peo- 
ple in a threshing meeting (or any meeting) 
break the ice in discussing an issue that they're 
reluctant to talk about publicly. Let's say it's 
believed that someone repeatedly breaks com- 
munity agreements or has seriously breached 
behavioral norms, or some members cannot 
meet their financial obligations to the commu- 
nity, or it's rumored that someone may be 
harming a child — and no one wants to bring 
it up. Using the public/private scale and fram- 
ing the issue as a series of questions makes 
public the range of members' opinions about 
the issue, which can help induce people to 
speak up and address the matter directly. (See 
Exercises, Chapter 5.) 

Creating Specific Conflict Resolution 

Some groups create a set of agreements about 
how community members will handle conflict 
when it comes up. Here are the agreements 
Sowing Circle made, excerpted from their 
"Conflict Resolution Policy." 

Sowing Circle Community: Conflict 
Resolution Policy 

When confronted with conflict of any kind, 
the community agrees to adhere to the conflict 
resolution principles and steps outlined below: 

I. Problem-Solving Ground Rules. All mem- 
bers agree to attempt to solve problems by first 
dealing directly with the person or persons with 
whom he/she is experiencing problems. Implicit 
in this agreement is a commitment to honest, 
direct problem-solving. All members will agree 
to the following ground rules when involved in 
conflict resolution efforts: 

1. A commitment to mutual respect. 

2. A commitment to solve the problem. 

3. No put-downs. 

4. No intimidation, implied or direct. 

5. No physical contact. 

6. No interrupting. 

7. Agreement to use the conflict resolution pro- 
tocol, below. 

II. Conflict Resolution Protocols. Community 
members in conflict will: 

• Make a good faith effort to resolve the 
problem between/among themselves. If 
this does not work, the members in con- 
flict will: 

• Ask a mutually agreed-upon member to 
help mediate and solve the problem with 
those having the conflict. If this does not 
work, the members in conflict will: 


• Formally request assistance from the 
community in solving the problem. 

• If the community is unable to assist in 
resolving the conflict, and all avenues of 
conflict resolution have been exhausted, 
then the community may choose to 
engage in outside mediation to solve the 

III. Third Party Confidentiality. We recognize 
the importance of the conflict resolution protocol 
outlined above, and agree to abide by it in princi- 
ple and practice. As non-involved parties, we will 
encourage conflicting parties to deal directly with 
one another. However, we also recognize the 
need, at times, to discuss, seek advice, or seek 
comfort from others while in the midst of con- 
flict. Such a situation requires confidentiality. As 
"third parties" who are approached for solace, 
advice, etc., we agree to provide these things in 
the spirit of helping to improve the situation. 

We do not wish to contribute to rumors, 
gossip, "bad-mouthing," or the perpetuation of 
problems. If a person who is experiencing a con- 
flict with one or more people on the property 
approaches a neutral "third party" it is under- 
stood that the person is responsible for keeping 
the health and well being of the community in 
mind. That is, while maintaining confidentiality, 
the third party should remind the conflicted 
person of the conflict resolution protocol, if nec- 
essary. In addition, by virtue of being privy to 
the conflict at hand, the third party is also 
responsible for monitoring the situation. If the 
feelings, issues, etc., are leading to greater con- 
flict or to a weakening of the community, then 
the third party should take steps toward facili- 
tating resolution, even if this means exposing 
the fact (not details) of the problem at hand to 
others in the community. 

IV. Confidentiality with Regard to Internal 
Community Conflict. In the spirit of protecting 
the privacy and rights of members of the com- 
munity, we are committed to maintaining confi- 
dentiality regarding individual and community 
issues of a sensitive nature when speaking with 
people outside the community. 

Helping Each Other Stay Accountable 
to the Group 

One of the most common sources of conflict in 
community occurs when people don't do what 
they say they'll do. As in business, this often 
causes repercussions "downstream," since some 
people count on others to finish certain prelimi- 
nary steps before they can take the next steps. 
But by putting a few simple processes in place, 
community members can help each other stay 
accountable to one another in relatively painless, 
guilt-free ways. 

One is to make agreements about tasks in 
meetings, and keep track of these tasks from 
meeting to meeting. This involves assigning tasks 
to specific people and defining what they're being 
asked to accomplish and by what time. It also 
involves having a task review at the beginning of 
every meeting — the people or committees who 
agreed to take on these tasks report whether they 
have been done, and if not, when they will be. 

It also helps to create a wall chart of assigned 
tasks with expected completion dates and the 
person or committee responsible for each. 
Assign someone the task of keeping the chart 
current and taping it on the wall at meetings. 

Community activist Geoph Kozeny suggests 
creating a buddy system, where everyone is 
assigned another group member to call and 
courteously inquire, "Did you call the county 
yet?" or "Have you found out about the health 
permit?" This is not about guilt-tripping; it's 


about helpful inquiry and mutual encourage- 
ment. These methods rely on the principle that 
it's more difficult to forget or ignore responsibil- 
ities if they're publicly visible. Social pressure can 
often accomplish what good intentions cannot. 

If not completing tasks becomes an ongoing 
problem with one or more people in the group, 
you can add additional processes. For example, 
when anyone accomplishes a task, thank and 
acknowledge the person at the next meeting. 
When someone doesn't accomplish a task, the 
group as a whole asks the person to try again. 
After awhile, the simple desire not to let others 
down usually becomes an internalized motivator 
for more responsible behavior. 

If someone still frequently fails to do what 
they say they'll do, you can use a graduated series 
of consequences. (See below for a more detailed 
explanation of a graduated series of conse- 
quences.) First, several people could talk with the 
person, for example,, describing the repercussions 
to the group of failing to follow through. If that 
doesn't resolve it, the matter could be taken up by 
a committee convened for this purpose. Last, it 
could become a matter for the whole group. 

Why is this such a common source of com- 
munity conflict? I think it's about developing the 
habit early in life of procrastinating or agreeing 
to take on more than is possible, and not having 
enough motivation to change. When we live 
alone or live with our families, it's relatively easy 
to change our minds about whether or not, or 
when, we'll do something we said we'd do, or just 
plain let it go. But in a forming community 
group or community, this can have widespread 
negative impacts on other people, and we'll cer- 
tainly hear about it. It can take time, energy, and 
commitment to shift from "live- alone" or "single- 
family" mode to consistently considering how 
our actions will affect others. 


Sometimes conflict gets so entrenched and seemingly 
irresolvable that communities call in process gurus, con- 
sensus facilitators, or other communication consultants to 
help sort out the problem. These consultants are skilled 
in process and conflict-resolution methods, and, since 
they're often community veterans themselves, their com- 
munity experience gives them a context for the unique 
challenges that arise when people attempt to live more 
closely and interdependently. (See Resources for sug- 
gested community process consultants.) 

When people repeatedly don't do what they 
promise and others continue to hold them 
accountable, it usually results in the person 
either changing their habits or eventually leaving 
the group. 

A Graduated Series of Consequences 

It's especially painful for community groups 
when someone consistently violates agreements 
or behavioral norms, or refuses to make changes 
repeatedly requested by other community mem- 
bers regarding behavior or communication style. 
One remedy is to agree on and implement nega- 
tive consequences for such offenses. In order to 
protect a community, it's possible to design a 
graduated series of fair, compassionate conse- 
quences, from mild to increasingly serious, that 
treat people with respect while inducing them to 
make necessary changes. 

Many communities have no consequences 
for such breaches, partly because most of us feel 
uncomfortable considering such matters, and 
partly because having negative consequences 
seems no different than the fines and jail sen- 
tences of mainstream society. It's difficult for 
community members to propose or implement 
coercive methods of governance when what they 


really want is a finer, kinder, more conscious 
society than the one they grew up with. For the 
same reasons, the communities that do have con- 
sequences are often reluctant to enforce them. 

Still other communities have consequences, 
but the consequences are too severe for the 
offense, so people are loathe to employ them. For 
example, one large income-sharing community 
has just one consequence for members who get 
too far in the "labor hole" (failing to do their share 
of labor) or the "money hole" (borrowing too much 
against future stipends) — eviction from the com- 
munity. But this requires polling the members for 
100 percent agreement to take this action. While 
many people in this community have gotten into 
the labor hole or money hole over the years, this 
consequence is rarely proposed. And when it is, 
usually enough friends of the member in question 
vote against it so he or she doesn't have to leave. 
Everyone loses here. The community continues to 
financially carry members who contribute less and 
take more, and the offending member continues to 
get away with irresponsible behavior and has little 
motivation to change. 

Occasionally, community members need a 
series of consequences to finally understand that 
they must make changes. When all else fails, coer- 
cion can give a person a needed kick in the pants. 

Community Alternatives Society in 
Vancouver, Canada, had no real "rules" until they 
were forced to create agreements about behavior, 
and more importantly, institute a graduated series 
of consequences if anyone breached them. This 
community's series of consequences treats mem- 
bers with respect, yet has "teeth." Here's what they 
do if someone seriously violates behavioral norms 
or repeatedly breaks community agreements: 
1. One person talks with the member in ques- 
tion about the problem and asks him or her 
to make changes. 

2. If this doesn't work, four people meet about 
the problem — the first two and a trusted 
friend of each, again, requesting that the per- 
son make changes. 

3. If this doesn't solve it, the person meets with 
the Accountability Committee to resolve the 

4. If this still doesn't solve it, the Accountability 
Committee creates a five-month contract 
with the member that outlines how he or she 
will make the necessary changes, and meets 
with the member monthly for updates. The 
purpose of the contract and meetings is not to 
punish or humiliate the member, but to 
encourage and support their making the 

5. If even this doesn't work, the whole commu- 
nity meets specifically to decide what action 
to take, which may include asking the person 
to live somewhere else for a while, and possi- 
bly also revoking his or her membership. The 
member can participate in this meeting, but 
has no blocking power. 

6. If most members want to take this action but 
one or more people block it, the committee 
meets with the member in question and the 
those blocking the proposal to seek resolu- 
tion together. 

The number of consequences a group has, 
and how far it goes (a whole-group meeting? 
expulsion?) will depend on the size of the group 
and how deeply connected people feel — often a 
function of how long they've been together. 

Isn't it drastic to put a member back on a 
provisional membership status, or ask them to 
live elsewhere for a while, or worse, to ask them 
to permanently leave the community once you're 
all living on the land? Yes, it is drastic. And some- 
times, when the violation is severe enough or the 


conflict too wrenching, it's the only way to pro- 
tect your forming community group or commu- 
nity from breaking up altogether. 

After they took the first Naka-Ima work- 
shop, Lost Valley members noticed two diver- 
gent trends developing in their community. Most 
members wanted to move in the direction of 
more cooperative and shared resources, but felt 
frustrated because other members wanted more 
independent lives. At that time, as a relatively 
small consensus-based group of ten members, it 
seemed that without something changing 
nobody would be able to get what they really 
wanted — especially since using consensus 
requires a common purpose. 

"To those of us who held the cooperative 
vision," Larry recalls, "it seemed necessary to 
break with precedent and ask the others to leave, 
freeing the energy to move forward. We didn't 
feel we had enough of a foundation to tolerate 
that kind of diversity. This was the first in a 
series of courageous and risky choices that we 
believed we must take to restore our integrity as 
a community." 

The people did leave, and Larry reports that 
the community became more harmonious 
because of it. 

Asking someone to leave your group or commu- 
nity is probably the most disruptive and painful 
way to deal with apparently irresolvable conflict. 
It is far easier to address the likelihood of such 
conflict ahead of time by carefully choosing the 
people who join you. We'll address this contro- 
versial topic in Chapter 18. 


Community founders and newcomers often assume that 
they won't need conflict resolution methods, ways to 
help each other stay accountable to the group, or conse- 
quences for violations agreements — since none of these 
issues will ever come up in their community. They assume 
they won't be living in the "old paradigm," so why have 
remedies for it? But a few months or a few years into the 
process they see that heir community does not at all 
resemble the harmonious and deeply connected "new 
paradigm" family they envisioned, and disillusionment 
sets in. 

Usually they blame the community itself ("We're so 
screwed up!") or particular members ("If only Ollie 
would leave!"), rather than realizing they had unrealistic 
expectations to begin with, and they are having a typical 
(some say, inevitable) community experience. 

Community life is more functional and satisfying than 
life in mainstream culture — but often not as functional 
and satisfying as we'd hoped! 

Community is like crossing a bridge between win- 
lose culture and the more harmonious and sustainable 
culture we aspire to and would like to leave to our chil- 
dren. Community members are traversing the bridge, 
passing from one realm to the other, helping generate 
that future as we keep learning better how to interact and 
communicate with each other in cooperative, win/win 
ways, resolve conflicts successfully, and so on. 

Utilizing the processes described in this chapter isn't 
evidence of our community's failure. These processes are 
like training wheels,- they're small, helpful, devices to help 
us travel more easily from we've been to where we're 
going — toward communities that are socially, ecologi- 
cally, and spiritually sustainable. 

^Chapter 1 8^ 

Selectins People to Join You 

leys of southwestern Colorado, six profession- 
al women in their forties through sixties planned 
a small community I'll call Pueblo Encantada. 
After awhile it became clear that a seventh per- 
son who'd recently joined the group, whom I'll 
call Regina, couldn't afford the $20,000 land- 
purchase contribution. Everyone assumed she'd 
no longer be involved, but Regina, deeply moved 
by the vision of a rural community in a beautiful 
setting, was convinced it was her destiny. "I know 
I should be there," she said.'lt's calling to me spir- 
itually." So the other members, moved by the 
desire not to exclude anyone for financial rea- 
sons, and unwilling to go against anyone's strong 
spiritual conviction, took Regina into the com- 
munity, bought an 11-acre property, and placed 
her name on the deed with everyone else's. 

Most of the women lived and worked in 
town and visited the land on weekends, planning 
to move there as soon as they could afford it or 
after they retired. But a few, including Regina, 
lived on the land full time. 

After about six months, tension arose over 
land use. Regina had acquired a horse, and insist- 
ed on certain requirements for pasturage and 
access to water, although this limited the other 

members' use and enjoyment of the land. As a 
consensus-based group, no one could force the 
issue unless everyone agreed, and Regina didn't. 
(And because they were new to consensus, no 
one realized there had been no real agreement in 
the first place since they'd never decided as a 
group to allow Regina to use that amount of 
land.) The conflict grew steadily worse. The 
other women resented Regina for behavior that 
seemed unfair and demanding, especially since 
they had literally gifted her with community 
membership out of their own pockets. Over the 
next several months feedback sessions didn't 
work, threshing meetings didn't work, outside 
mediation didn't work. Finally, the others offered 
to split the 11 acres, with Regina retaining an 
acre and a half, although not the portion she 
wanted. She could reimburse the others in 
monthly installments, with no down payment. 
The community would continue, minus Regina, 
on the remaining nine and a half acres. But she 
refused. By now an intolerable situation, the only 
recourse the women had was to sue Regina to 
force the sale of the property and get their 
money out. This they did. In less than a year and 
a half, Pueblo Encantada had become Pueblo 


If this weren't bad enough, because Regina 
was on the deed as co-owner, the court disbursed 
to her one-seventh the proceeds of the sale, in 
spite of the fact that she'd paid not a dime. But 
this wasn't the worst part. The worst part was 
that every one of the six women had felt uneasy 
about Regina when they'd met as a core group. 
Her energy, her communication style, and her 
near-insistence that she belonged on the land, 
had raised red flags for everyone. But no one had 
said a word, not wanting to appear unkind, or 
worse, "selfish." Wanting to be generous, unwill- 
ing to heed telltale signs, and ashamed of their 
feelings of aversion, no one voiced her private 
misgivings. Being "nice" cost them their dream. 

Select for Emotional Maturity — the 
"Narrow Door" 

Pueblo Encantada's story is not at all unique; I've 
heard many variations of this tale in the years 
I've been watching forming communities. 

Accepting someone into to your core group 
or already-established community who isn't 
aligned with your vision and values, or who trig- 
gers strong reservations, doesn't work. It can 
potentially lead to spending hours of meeting 
time on conflicts that leave everyone drained and 
exhausted, or worse, to lawsuits and community 
break-up. And, because people project so much 
idealism onto community, we tend to make the 
same kinds of mistakes choosing community 
mates as we do choosing lovers: leaping before 
we look, projecting idealized archetypes onto 
ordinary folks, refusing to pay attention to tell- 
tale signs. 

The antidote is to put in place a well- 
designed process for accepting and integrating 
new members and screening out those who don't 
resonate with your group. Since community liv- 
ing involves getting along well with others, you'll 

want to select people whose lives demonstrate 
they can do this. Ideally, you'll select for emo- 
tional maturity and self-esteem. Not having a 
membership selection process can be a heart- 
breaking source of structural conflict later on. 

"If your community front door is difficult to 
enter, healthy people will strive to get in," says 
Irwin Wolfe Zucker, a psychiatric social worker 
and former member of Findhorn and other com- 
munities. "If it's wide open, you'll tend to attract 
unhealthy people, well-versed in resentful 
silences, subterfuge, manipulation, and guilt 
trips." Once these people become members of 
the group, he warns, everyone's energy may later 
be tied up in getting them out again. 

A membership screening process usually 
means a period of time visiting the core group or 
community as an observer, answering questions, 
being interviewed by the group, and acceptance 
through the consensus process. In forming- 
groups, this can include paying membership 
dues and/or fees towards land purchase. In 
already- established communities, this usually 
means a more rigorous set of questions, a longer 
visiting period, a six-month-to-a-year provision- 
al membership, and possibly higher membership 

An important part of the screening process is 
how accurately the group describes itself pub- 
licly. Done well, your promotional materials 
(brochure or other handouts, inquiry response 
letter, website, classified ad in Communities maga- 
zine, listing in the Communities Directory), will 
draw those people aligned with your values and 
vision, and who are able and willing to meet your 
time, energy and financial requirements. 

Your promotional materials can help you 
draw the kinds of people you're seeking and 
deter anyone else. You can be explicit about this 
if you wish. One community's brochure reads: 


We're looking for people who feel confident and 
good about themselves, who have achieved a 
degree of emotional maturity, and who can get 
along with others in a group situation. 

We're interested in people who don't feel that 
they've been harmed or taken advantage of by 
others, or who don't get the feedback that 
they're moody, or touchy. We're seeking people 
who enjoy the company of others, and are will- 
ing to ask for what they want and need. 

It makes sense to have a formal member- 
screening process once you're living together in 
community, but is it reasonable to ask someone 
to go through all this simply to attend meetings 
of your core group? It doesn't make sense for vis- 
itors who will simply observe and offer com- 
ments. But it does if they will become decision- 
making members who'll help influence the 
future of your community. 

Another reason to screen new core group 
members involves keeping the ones you've got. 


1 . Someone who doesn't "need" it. People who are 
fulfilled and doing well in their lives are more likely to 
thrive in and contribute to community. 

2. Someone with a healthy sense of self. People 
with emotional maturity and self-esteem, who know 
what they want and know their strengths and weak- 
nesses, and who are seeking personal growth for 
themselves, tend to do well in community. 

3. Someone who is open to and able to hear 
other points of view. The aggressive, competent 
business executive or entrepreneur who instinctively 
knows best and makes decisions quickly tends to feel 
frustrated and impatient in community until he or she 
becomes comfortable with cooperative decision- 
making. Then such a person can thrive in community 
and contribute a great deal. 

4. Someone with a sense of connection to people 
and an interest in the well-being of others. 

Obviously a socially confident person who likes peo- 
ple will enjoy community, but people who are shy or 
natural loners can have difficulty at first. They can be 
insensitive to other people's needs and have no idea 

what's expected of them. But with enough "high will- 
ingness," such people can use community as a learning 
opportunity and become fully contributing members. 

5. Someone willing to abide by group agree- 
ments. Some people fiercely guard their autonomy, 
find the idea of interdependence with others unset- 
tling, and tend to bristle when asked to do follow 
rules or perform a task. Again, with enough "high will- 
ingness," such people can move from "I" conscious- 
ness to "we" consciousness without losing their sense 
of self. It feels good to be interdependent with oth- 
ers; however, for some people it takes a certain 
amount of self-confidence and trust even to try it. 

6. Someone willing to speak up. People who are 
willing to take the initiative, say so when they disagree 
with others, and ask for what they want, tend to do 

7. Someone willing to be quiet and listen. People 
who always know what's best, or who are dynamic, 
assertive, and full of ideas, may need to tone down 
that energy somewhat in group meetings in order to 
3ive others the space to speak. 


Once you're living in community, it's not easy for 
someone who's fed up with a newcomer's behav- 
ior to leave. But until a core group's level of com- 
mitment has increased, for example, after buying 
land, if someone joins you who annoys or dis- 
rupts the group, anyone in the core group could 
become annoyed enough to walk away and never 

But is it Community? 

Many people don't think it's "community" unless 
the group is inclusive and open and anyone can 
join. Doesn't community mean offering a more 
accepting, inclusive culture than mainstream 

Most experienced communitarians would 
reply that not having criteria for new members 
— admissions standards, if you will — is simply 
an invitation for emotionally dysfunctional peo- 
ple to arrive. Without realizing it, they seek out 
communities in order to heal childhood hurts 
and wounds. They look to community to pro- 
vide the loving family they never had. (One com- 
munity founder told me that their community 
sign out front might as well have read: 
"Emotional Hospital — Welcome.") 

When I bring this up in workshops, many 
people shift uncomfortably in their seats — it 
goes against the grain to consider excluding peo- 
ple. I can always spot the experienced communi- 
ty members though; they're the ones rolling their 
eyes with "you can say that again" looks. They've 
usually learned this through bitter experience; 
there's no reason you should learn it the hard 
way too. 

'An intentional community is a scarce and 
valuable commodity in our culture," observes 
communitarian Harvey Baker of Dunmire 
Hollow in Tennessee, "existing only because its 
founders have invested a lot of time and human 

resources. It'd be a shame to let in someone in 
who could destroy what has taken so many peo- 
ple so many years to create." 

But what about the rock polisher effect? 
Aren't everyone's rough edges worn smoother by 
contact with everyone else's? Veteran communi- 
tarians often point out that most people natural- 
ly mature in community because of the (hopeful- 
ly) constructive feedback they'll receive and the 
natural tendency to learn from the (hopefully) 
good communication skills modeled by more 
experienced members. Many groups know peo- 
ple who were difficult to be around when they 
first arrived, but were so motivated to learn that 
they became model community members. 

But the rock polisher effect appears to hinge 
on the willingness of the potential new member 
to learn and grow and change. I've seen forming 
communities — even those with otherwise fine 
process skills — break apart in conflict and 
sometimes lawsuits because even just one mem- 
ber didn't have enough self-esteem to function 
well in a group. The person's "stuff came up" — as 
everyone's does in community — but theirs was 
too destructive for the group to absorb. When a 
person is wounded and having a difficult time, he 
or she can certainly benefit from living in com- 
munity, and, ideally, can heal and grow because 
of the support and feedback offered there. But a 
certain level of woundedness — without "high 
willingness" — appears to be too deep for many 
new communities to handle. I believe one deeply 
wounded person can affect a group far more than 
ten healthy people — potentially derailing the 
community's agenda and draining its energy. 

Passive Victims, Outraged Victims 

Consider the person who has had the misfortune 
of being abused as a child and hasn't had much 
healing before approaching your group. Such a 


person usually feels needy at some level, and 
tends to interpret other peoples inability or 
refusal to meet his or her needs as simply more 

Sometimes the person seems timid, passive, 
or insecure, which people sometimes character- 
ize as having "victim" energy. Others, equally 
hurting, have the opposite traits, appearing edgy 
and intense, or erupting into anger rather easily. 
In both cases, it appears that on an unconscious 
level, the person expects to be victimized, and is 
"ready for it" in advance. Such a person tends to 
either seek out abusive situations or provoke 
normally mild-tempered people to anger. They 
can perceive angry or abusive behaviors where 
they don't exist, and conclude, "See, I knew you'd 
abuse me." 

The problem is not that the person was once 
victimized, which obviously wasn't their fault. 
The problem is the ongoing interpretation of 
other people's actions as victimizing them. 

Here's how this often plays out in communi- 
ty. Let's say Darleen arrives at your door, or 
begins attending meetings of your core group. 
She's in difficult life circumstances; you feel 
compassion and want to help, so you do. You feel 
good about this, and all is well for awhile. But 
soon tension builds between Darleen and other 
members. At sharing circles she retreats. 
Attempts to offer her feedback are rebuffed. 
Requests for minor changes in her behavior are 
seen as attacks. Any "good process" attention the 
community gives her is seen as persecution. At 
first Darleen thought you were allies, but look: 
just like everyone else, you're out to victimize 
her too. 

For some reason "Darleen" often shows up in 
communities as a single mother on welfare with 
several small children and two dogs which the 
children are very attached to. The mother has 

environmental illness, one of the children has 
special needs, the dogs have fleas and the mange. 
(The potential drama and cost to the communi- 
ty escalates if the father of Darleen's children is 
trying to take them away from her, or wants to 
move in and abuse her further.) Darleen is 
exhausted and desperate, and of course you want 
to help her. By all means feed the family, give 
them shelter for a few nights and a little money, 
if you like. Encourage Darleen to get help with 
county social services. Just know what you'll be 
taking on if you let her join you. 

Lost Valley once rescued a single mother in 
circumstances like these, and she ended up 
resenting and blaming the community no matter 
how they tried to help. "We didn't have what it 
took for her to continue accepting our charity," 
Dianne Brause recalls wryly. 

Or let's say Mike arrives at your door. Angry 
with the corrupt powers that plunder the Earth, 
he's certain of his convictions and passionate 
about social change. He knows community — 
your community — is part of the answer. He 
joins and you welcome his zeal. All is well for 

Soon tension builds between Mike and a few 
others. The feedback he gets is wrong; requests 
for change are power-plays; sharing circles are for 
wimps. Any "process" attention the community 
gives Mike is coercion. At first your community 
seemed like righteous allies in the struggle, but 
look: you're just corrupt power- mongers like 
everyone else. 

Darleen is operating out of fear, Mike out of 
rage. Both are victims. 

What kind of communities can people in 
these circumstances join, besides therapeutic 
communities, or service communities organized 
to offer support to people in need? A large, old, 
well-established community can sometimes take 


on difficult or wounded people without much 
damage to itself. A mature oak tree, after all, can 
handle being hit by a truck. But don't take on 
this challenge if your group is small, or brand 
new. You're just a seedling, not an oak tree, and 
still too vulnerable. 

Membership Screening and the Law 

As mentioned earlier, if you have housing units 
or lots for sale on the open market, you can't pick 
and choose your members, but must sell to any- 
one who meets your terms. If, based on your 
membership criteria, you choose some buyers 
and reject others, courts could interpret this as 
discrimination. Cohousing communities face 
this issue, but, as mentioned earlier, usually find 
that only those people who want more commu- 
nity in their lives are interested anyway, so their 
membership selection process becomes self- 

But sometimes a cohousing core group sees a 
red flag and does something about it. This was 
the case with a forming cohousing group in the 
Northwest, which I'll call Redwood Commons, 
and a member of their group whom I'll call 
"Cal." Cal spoke in a monotone and had little 
facial expression, what psychologists call "flat 
affect." Everyone noticed his unusual, somewhat 
mechanical demeanor. Some felt compassion 
and were kind; others were unnerved. When it 
was time for Redwood Commons to put money 
down on a property and move forward, some 
didn't want Cal in the group. "What if he 'snaps' 
someday and harms one of our children?" they 
asked. Others were heartsick about it. They 
wanted to be kind to Cal, who was obviously 
hurting and would benefit from community liv- 
ing, but they didn't want to risk it. So a few 
members took Cal aside, and rather awkwardly, 
asked him to leave the group, which he did. They 

didn't point out that he had every legal right to 
buy in. To this day many Redwood Commons 
members feel ashamed of the way they asked Cal 
to leave; it was obviously a painful experience for 
him. Could they have done it more kindly, they 
ask? Should they have discouraged his meeting 
attendance earlier in the process? And were they 
just dead wrong? Cal could have been a fine com- 
munity member. Frequent contact with neigh- 
bors, particularly children, could have brought 
needed warmth into his life. 

Yet even though this issue is painful to con- 
template, I think these core group members did 
the right thing by following their instincts and 
taking the action they thought best for the com- 
munity. Unlike Pueblo Encantada members, 
Redwood Commons people didn't let shame 
about their feelings of unease stop them from 
speaking up. 

Dealing Well with Saying "No" 

Whether a group has homes or lots for sale on 
the open market, or owns its property and can 
thus choose its members, is it worth it to ask 
someone to leave, given how badly they may feel? 
Consider this: someone who is not accepted for 
membership in a group or community feels dis- 
appointed, gets over it, and moves on. But some- 
one who is accepted as a community member, 
moves to the community and lives there for 
awhile, and is later asked to leave, may be deeply 
scarred. It is far easier on everyone concerned to 
take this painful step at the beginning. 

I'd much rather see a new community get 
established, sink roots, and grow strong and 
healthy for a few years before taking in a wound- 
ed person who might be disruptive but could 
benefit from community, than see them try this 
when they're first starting out and risk everything 
in the process. You're propagating from seeds 


here. You need all the protection you can get. 

This can be so difficult that people don't deal 
with it at all, especially if they were raised to 
believe that it's not "nice" to say"No." Like Pueblo 
Encantada members, people can feel ashamed of 
their feelings that something's "not right," and 
judge themselves for being "judgmental" or 
worse, for being "discriminating." 

"Judgmental" means to criticize someone as 
unworthy, whereas what you're doing is assess- 
ing whether this person resonates with your 
visions and values, is aligned with your behav- 
ioral norms, and can meet your financial and 
labor requirements. And to "discriminate" means 

to recognize the differences between various 
choices; to differentiate, to discern. And discern 
you must, since you could be living near and 
sharing property with this person for the rest of 
your life. 

How Can You Tell? 

Since most of us are wounded to some degree 
and are in various stages of recovery, how can we 
tell in advance who might be wounded severely 
enough to drain and exhaust the group? Most 
people with serious emotional difficulties don't 
give off signals like Regina and Cal, but seem just 
like anyone else at first. 


Communities organize their membership screening 
process in various ways. 

At Earthaven, for example, people learn about the 
community's vision, values, membership require- 
ments, and other information through its website and 
information packet (which includes magazine article 
reprints and a video). Interested people can take a 
tour, attend the community's Council meetings, and 
arrange weekend visits. 

The first stage of membership is to become a "sup- 
porting member," which is an opportunity for the per- 
son and the community to get to know each other in a 
relaxed way without too much being asked of anyone. 
A supporting member can visit anytime, can live in the 
community if accommodations are available, can 
attend Council meetings but not participate in discus- 
sions, and receives the community's newsletter and 
emailed copies of Council minutes. Supporting mem- 
bers pay a small monthly membership fee and sign an 
agreement saying that they understand the communi- 
ty's vision and values. 

When people decide to join the community they 
become "provisional members" for at least six months 
first (although it can be longer), which allows them 
and the community to get to know each other far bet- 
ter, with a fair amount of commitment on either side. 
Provisional members can participate in community 
meetings (although they cannot block proposals) and 
they're encouraged to live in the community. They pay 
the community's $4,000 joining fee and sign a contract 
agreeing to pay a site lease fee at the time of full mem- 
bership. They are required to attend at least two com- 
mittee meetings a month, work 48 hours per quarter on 
community tasks, and get to know as many communi- 
ty members as possible. 

Supporting members apply for provisional mem- 
bership by filling out a questionnaire about themselves 
and their community aspirations (which is shared with 
the whole group), as well as telling aspects of their life 
story at a whole group meeting convened for this pur- 
pose. If no one objects in to the person's provisional 
membership status in the three-week period following 


This is what two founders, whom I'll call 
Celeste and Brad, asked after their upper 
Midwest community, which I'll call Faraway 
Lake, broke up in conflict and heartbreak. 

Celeste and Brad are two of the most likable, 
capable, and spiritually grounded people I know, 
so when they began planning a new community 
I was sure it would be a success. They wrote a 
beautiful description of their vision for Faraway 
Lake and attracted five other cofounders, each of 
whom seemed equally grounded and capable. 
The group met for months at each other's homes 
to make plans. 

After looking at over 50 properties the group 

found an ideal site by a lake, with everything 
they'd been looking for. While they had enough 
money for a down payment, they didn't have 
enough to buy the land outright, so began a 
search for a mortgage. In the meantime they 
rented a cabin near their intended property and 
camped in the yard or slept dormitory-style in 
the attic. In order to make a living in their rural 
setting they started a small, cooperatively owned 
manufacturing business, for which Brad and 
Celeste and two others invested savings and bor- 
rowed start-up funds from friends. They rented 
and renovated a nearby factory space and set to 
work. Over the next few months the group toiled 

the storytelling evening, he or she becomes a provi- 
sional member. (If the community doesn't ultimately 
accept the person as a full member, the fee is 
returned. But if the person decides not to join the 
community, the community keeps one-third the fee 
as a deterrent to anyone's joining too casually.) 

In six months, if the person has met the labor and 
other requirements, he or she can apply for full 
membership. Community members are polled for 
their comments and whether they support the per- 
son's becoming a full member. The questions 
include: "Have you been able to get to know this 
person? If not, why not?" and "How do you think this 
person could best contribute to the community?" 
and "Do have any concerns about this person as a 
member? If so, have you met with the person to dis- 
cuss them?" If a member does have a concern, he or 
she must meet with the provisional member to 
attempt to resolve the concern. If issues cannot be 
resolved, or if the community as a whole has con- 

cerns about the provisional member, the person may 
be asked to continue in that membership status for 
awhile, and apply for full membership again later. If 
no one has any objections, the person is proposed 
for full membership at a Council meeting for consen- 
sual agreement. Then everyone celebrates. 

Meadowdance has a similar process with suc- 
cessive levels of membership, but with more 
checkpoints; at the first-month, fourth month, sev- 
enth month, and 13th month, when the person 
becomes a full member. At each membership 
stage the person can participate in meetings, but 
cannot block a proposal. Meadowdance's process 
must necessarily be more regulated than joining a 
village like Earthaven, since Meadowdance mem- 
bers join a household, share a kitchen, and work for 
the community businesses. 

Most of the "successful ten percent" have similar 
multi-step membership processes. 


long hours at the new business, but still managed 
to take time out to enjoy stories around the 
campfire, go hiking and sailing, and meditate by 
the lake at sunrise. 

Unfortunately their new business had a 
series of unexpected setbacks. The financial 
uncertainty along with the fact that they lived in 
crowded conditions, strained their good will, and 
soon they began bickering. This didn't alarm 
Brad or Celeste, who'd lived in community before 
and were old hands at group process. But in one 
member, whom I'll call David, rage was growing. 
In sharing circles or feedback sessions, he seemed 
to be listening and understanding, but was 
secretly becoming even more angry, resentful, 
and entrenched in his position. He took a partic- 
ular dislike to Celeste, who had asked him to 
change certain attitudes and behaviors toward 
people outside the community with whom they 
were doing business. As conflict escalated over 
the next few months and Celeste, Brad, and oth- 
ers attempted to give David feedback, the more 
he singled out Celeste as the cause of the prob- 
lem. As their conflict grew worse, it got framed 
as a power struggle between the two of them. 
Celeste wanted David to become more conscious 
of and alter certain behaviors; he wanted her to 
stop trying to "dominate everyone." As experi- 
enced communitarians, Brad and Celeste 
believed that since they all lived under one roof 
and were financially interdependent, David's or 
any other member's behavior was everyone's 
business, but for David, it was an outrageous 
invasion of privacy. The group split into factions. 
Distrust and tension mounted. 

Just when it seemed as though things could- 
n't get any worse, the business failed, still deeply 
in debt. Exhausted and demoralized, the group 
felt it had no choice but to call it quits. Everyone 
moved away. After fourteen months Faraway 

Lake was no more. David, who'd put no money 
into the cooperatively owned business, refused to 
make payments towards reimbursing its loan. 
Living on their own again, dejected, and feeling 
strangely ashamed of the failure of their commu- 
nity dream, Brad and Celeste worked for the 
next three years to replace their savings. 

"How could we have known how David 
would react to living in community?" Celeste later 
asked. "No one could have guessed by meeting 
him. During the months of planning he was one 
of the most engaging and delightful people you'd 
ever hope to meet. How could we have known?" 

Questions, References, "Long 

"Look for good history of love and work," advis- 
es Irwin Wolfe Zucker. According to psycholog- 
ical studies, past behavior is the best predictor of 
future behavior, so he recommends asking ques- 
tions, through questionnaires and interviews. 
Let's say you're seeking people who are financial- 
ly stable, emotionally secure, and, ideally, have 
some experience living cooperatively. The more 
intimate the community you're planning — in 
terms of physical proximity, the amount of 
shared resources, and the amount of financial 
interdependence — the more direct your ques- 
tions might be. 

For example, besides the usual questions 
about the person's community aspirations, you 
might ask: 

• How have you supported yourself finan- 

• Can you describe some of your long-term 

• What was your experience in high school 
or college? 


• How much schooling did you complete? 

• If you chose to leave school, why was 

• Have you pursued alternative education- 
al or career paths such as internships, 
apprenticeships, or on-the-job training? 
Where, and for how long? Did you com- 
plete them? 

• Have you lived in shared or cooperative 
living situations before, such as college 
dorms or student housing co-ops, shared 
group households, or other intentional 

• Do you have a significant love and/ or 
family relationship now? How long have 
you been together? Do you plan to live 
together in community? 

• If you're a single parent, what is your cur- 
rent relationship with your children's 
other parent? Are you on good terms and 
share parenting or are you estranged? 
Does the other parent want custody of 
the children? 

• Will you be able to meet our labor and 
financial requirements? How? 

While these are certainly personal questions, 
keep in mind that you're considering this person 
for a truly personal relationship, involving 
aspects of both marriage and a business partner- 
ship. You're expecting him or her to be responsi- 
ble and trustworthy as a close neighbor and 
someone who may be a friend to your children, 
as well as someone with whom you'll own prop- 
erty and make important financial decisions. 

By the way, not having the money to pay a 
share of land-purchase costs or membership fees 
but wanting to join anyway is sometimes a pre- 
dictor of trouble later on, as was the case with 

Regina and David. But not always. Some of the 
most active and contributing members of 
Earthaven, for example, are young people who 
joined without funds, and are paying off mem- 
bership and site-lease fees through a labor 
exchange with the community. 

You could also ask for three or four refer- 
ences — from former partners, current and for- 
mer employers, landlords, housemates, and/ or 
traveling companions. What if new people just 
give names of friends who'll only say good 
things, you ask? Consider that even the way peo- 
ple respond to the request for references tells you 
something. If they are happy to provide refer- 
ences and do so immediately, it's a good sign. I 
once called references for people interested visit- 
ing a small forming community. (References 
were asked for before, rather than after a pro- 
posed visit, so that if the references didn't check 
out, the visitors wouldn't have wasted their time 
or travel expenses.) I learned that you can get a 
pretty good sense of how others may feel about 
someone by about the third or fourth reference 
call. And it certainly would have benefited 
Faraway Lake if Brad and Celeste had sought 
references or a background check on David. 
They later learned he had been fleeing court- 
ordered judgments for punitive damages and 
reimbursement of funds owed former business 
partners in two different past businesses, and 
had been attempting to go underground, "hiding" 
in various intentional communities. 

But wait a minute — is past behavior always 
the best predictor of future behavior? What 
about people who change and grow? People def- 
initely can mature and become more stable, 
compassionate, and responsible over the years 
and we must allow for that possibility. I suggest 
asking people about this directly: "What were 
you like in your twenties? Have you changed in 


any significant ways since then?" We need to 
seek a balance between considering people's past 
behavior (and for some, perhaps during only the 
past five or ten years), and their current state. 
Questions and interviews, references, and a long 
getting-to-know-you period where we can expe- 
rience the new person on a day-to-day basis all 
help with this process. 

But, wait another minute — what about the 
people who started the core group or the commu- 
nity? If they screened themselves for all the same 
membership criteria would they have gotten in? 
Do they even meet their own requirements? 

People often do tend to seek higher stan- 
dards in new members than they exemplify in 
themselves. It seems to be human nature to aim 
high, perhaps like the father for whom no 
boyfriend is good enough for his little girl — 
even though old dad doesn't meet his own stan- 
dards. My advice is for founders of core groups 
and communities to seek a balance between 
new-member requirements that are so idealistic 
that few could pass them (and certainly not 
themselves!) and so lax that the requirements 
don't accomplish their intended purpose — 
attracting capable, like-minded people who will 
help the community achieve its goals. 

Besides getting information about the per- 
son, membership requirements usually also 
involve a "getting to know you" period, and vari- 
ous kinds of fees. Time and money requirements 
also help separate serious community seekers 
from the merely curious. 

I'm a firm believer in "long engagements:" 
extended guest visits or provisional member- 
ships of six months to a year or more, so the 
group and the prospective member can continue 
to get to know each other. Most long-lived com- 
munities have discovered that this length of time 
is important. Sometimes it takes a year to find 

out what someone is really like, or more impor- 
tantly, what they're like under stress, and 
whether it seems they'll be able to live happily 
with your community agreements. 

Finally, it's important to have a process to 
integrate new members into your group or com- 
munity. Besides sharing your decision log and 
making sure the new person knows your agree- 
ments and financial and labor requirements, 
you'll want to share as much community histo- 
ry and "community culture" as you can with this 
person, and invite him or her to participate in as 
many work parties, shared meals, and celebra- 
tions as you can. Most of this will naturally 
occur over the period of provisional member- 
ship (and in forming-community groups, during 
the "visiting observer" period). Sometimes com- 
munities take it a step further; for example, hav- 
ing a series of orientation sessions and/or 
assigning the newcomer a sponsor who's avail- 
able to orient the new person and answer any 

The most critical part of any orientation 
however, should be making sure that the new 
person is familiar with your decision- making 
process. If you use consensus, you'll want the 
person to fully understand its philosophy and 
practice, and especially the blocking privilege. 
Some groups require that new people complete a 
weekend consensus workshop before becoming a 
full member with decision- making rights, which 
seems like an excellent idea. 

The suggestions in this book for planting the 
seeds for your ecovillage or intentional commu- 
nity and helping it grow and thrive are by no 
means all you need to know; nor is this the end 
of your learning. It is, of course, the beginning. 


You and your friends in community are pio- 
neers in the finest sense. Your choice to live coop- 
eratively with others, share resources, and evolve 
a more harmonious and sustainable way to live, 
has the potential to benefit others in far greater 
proportion than your numbers. Through slow, 
small increments, as people hear about your 
community and visit you — and hear about and 

visit other ecovillages and intentional communi- 
ties across North America — they'll be influ- 
enced by a vision for human settlement that's 
potentially so inviting it ultimately makes a pos- 
itive difference in our culture. 

Creating community may be one of the most 
meaningful ways you can spend your time. I wish 
you every good fortune on the journey. 

Appendix 1 

Sample Community Vision Documents 

Lost Valley Educational Center , Oregon 

A community can alter its vision documents 
to reflect changed circumstances and insights. 

Vision (1996): 

• To be a vital resource for the creation of 
sustainable culture for the Pacific 

Mission (1996): 

• To support people in creating sustainable 
lifestyles by providing learning opportu- 
nities to develop skills and awarenesses 
that promote cooperative, harmonious, 
sustainable and joyous ways of living in 
relationship with each other and the 

Goals (1996): 

• To offer and develop high-quality learn- 
ing opportunities to develop skills and 
awarenesses for sustainable living. 

• To provide a nourishing, supportive, and 
responsive environment that facilitates 
participants in achieving their goals and 
deriving full value form their learning 

• To provide financial and operational 
resources to support and enhance the 
activities of the educational center. 

Vision Statement (1999): 

The mission of Lost Valley Educational Center 
is to create and foster mutually beneficial rela- 
tions between humans and all parts of the web of 
existence. We believe that these relationships 
provide a means to well-being as well as survival. 

In fulfilling this mission, our purpose is to 
create and maintain an intentional community 
and an educational center dedicated to three 
goals which guide us in all activities: 

• To educate broadly in areas such as ecol- 
ogy, sustainable agriculture, human- made 
environments, personal and spiritual 
growth, and community development. 

• To live an ethic in which we are open to 
spiritual diversity, demonstrate right 
livelihood and sustainable economics, 
support individuals in their personal 
growth and healing, and steward the land 
to sustain and heal the Earth for genera- 
tions to come. 

• To participate in the global community, 
network with others, and facilitate the 



evolution of cooperative societies and 
socially responsible relationships at every 

We dedicate ourselves to learning and teach- 
ing this way of life. 

Earthaven Ecovillage, North Carolina 

The following is excerpted from Earthavehs 
"New Vision" document: 

We are the members and pioneers of a 
planned permaculture ecovillage, actively 
engaged in building sacred community support- 
ing personal empowerment, and catalyzing cul- 
tural transformation. 

We share a vision of a community with a 
vital, diversified spirituality healthy social rela- 
tions, sustainable ecological systems, and a low 
maintenance/high satisfaction lifestyle. 

Earthavehs "ReMembership Covenant" out- 
lines the following purpose and goals: 


To be an evolving village-scale community dedi- 
cated to caring for people and the Earth by learn- 
ing, practicing and demonstrating the skills for 
creating holistic sustainable culture, in recogni- 
tion and celebration of the Oneness of all life. 


1. Make conscious our connection to Spirit and 
Earth and our interdependence with the web 
of all life. 

2. Facilitate our transition toward a life of ele- 
gant simplicity. 

3. Nurture an increasingly abundant world by 
enhancing living systems, while reducing 
consumption of resources. 

4. Foster the lifelong learning and growth of 

every community member, recognizing each 
individual is both teacher and learner. 

5. Preserve our landholding through proper 
stewardship, designated wilderness areas and 
ecologically sound use of our resources. 

6. Create a learning center that serves as a living 
demonstration of this holistic vision. 

7. Envision a positive, restorative future and 
develop the skills needed to create and sus- 
tain it. 

8. Promote personal and planetary healing on 
all levels. 

9. Serve and reach out to the local and global 
community, encouraging spiritual and cul- 
tural diversity and other forms of creative 
expression while providing a sense of inclu- 
sion, integration and celebration through 
responsible community activities. 

10. Encourage the growth of our village until we 
have at least 66 site holders. 

11. Encourage the establishment of member- 
owned and managed, ecologically sound 

12. Actively support the intentional communi- 
ties, permaculture and land reform move- 
ments as we are able. 

Abundant Dawn, Virginia 

Following is Abundant Dawn's vision state- 

• We are creating a loving and sustainable 
culture. We live close to one another, 
cooperate, and share resources, so that we 
may live more lightly and joyously on the 

• As we seek to realize ourselves through 
service, and work towards ecological and 
social responsibility, we respect the diver- 
sity of our members' life choices. 


• Whether in times of peace or conflict, we 
meet each other face to face, with open- 
ness and caring. We are each individually 
committed to reaching through our hurts 
and fears to find and share our deepest 

• We honor the spark of the divine in all 

The following is excerpted from Abundant 
Dawn's vision documents: 

Abundant Dawn intends to be a large com- 
munity (possibly 40-60) made up of four or five 
smaller subgroups, which we call pods. Pods are 
small enough for all the members to sit in a room 
together and make a decision. Decisions regard- 
ing such important matters as membership, chil- 
dren, housing, and level of economic cooperation 
are decided at the pod level, with input from the 
wider community when appropriate. 

This structure gives us some advantages of a 
large community (diverse population, sharing a 
large property, tractor and community center) as 
well as some advantages of small communities 
(intimate living groups, direct input into life- 
affecting decisions, face-to-face meetings). 

Each pod has a few acres designated for its 
use and control. Within the guidelines of our 
vision statement, land plan, ecological guidelines, 
and other broad agreements, pods are encour- 
aged to develop their own ways of living togeth- 
er. We intentionally include a spectrum of eco- 
nomic models from full income sharing to inde- 
pendent household incomes. 

Major decisions, such as our overall land 
plan, are made by a consensus of the full mem- 
bers of Abundant Dawn. This may shift to con- 
sensus by pod representatives as we grow larger. 

^Appendix 2^ 

Sample Community Agreements 

Decision Log, Buffalo Creek Community 

The following excerpt in the Decision Log of 
Buffalo Creek Community (not their real name) 
illustrates the kinds of agreements a forming 
community makes in their early stages, before 
beginning the land search. Buffalo Creek's vision 
was to live in a spiritually focused community of 
deeply connected friends in a rural setting. 
While they took detailed minutes of their meet- 
ings, this document records only their decisions, 
by date. They used this document as a "group 
memory" when considering new issues, and to 
orient visitors and new members to the group. 

Sept 15: We named the community "Buffalo 
Creek." Our emphasis is on personal connection 
with each other, with community living as a sub- 
set of that. 

Oct 21: Five criteria determine an active member 
of the community: (1) Being in alignment with 
the Buffalo Creek Community Mission 
Statement and Agreements; (2) Payment of 
$150 (or $75 for waiting list); (3) Participation 
in at least one action group and general meet- 
ings; (4) Missing no more than two consecutive 
general or action meetings; and (5) financial pre- 
qualification to buy a lot and build a house. 

Active members are entitled to a reserved 
housing unit, participation in decision-making, 
and access to our community lending library. 

At least one-third of all households will be 
reserved for families with children under 16. 

All meetings are open and anyone may 
attend. Non-active members may be asked to 
only observe at meetings. They would not partic- 
ipate in consensus or other decision- making 

If a vote is called for, each household is enti- 
tled to one decision-making right, which may be 
split if members of that household chose to 
decide differently from each other. 

Number of households to target for: 24. 

Dec 16: We will pay for an option or down pay- 
ment on land only after we have 24 active house- 

Jan 19: A household can sell its place (3rd, 16th 
etc.) on the membership list. As a place is vacat- 
ed, all households that follow move up one place 
on the list. 

Mar 16: The Waiting List is limited to 50 per- 
cent of active members. For example, there 
maybe 12 members on the waiting list when 



there are 24 active households. 

Apr 20: For any decision to be binding on the 
entire community, two-thirds of all households 
must agree to the decision. 

A decision made by consensus will be con- 
sidered to meet the requirements of the two- 
thirds rule. 

May 18: The Coordinating Team is given the 
authority to approve, by consensus decision 
making, expenditures of up to $500. If their 
decision is not unanimous, or if the expenditure 
exceeds $500, it should be proposed to the whole 
group for approval. 

Jun 15: We established a Site Fund. Each active 
community household is required, beginning 
August 1, to deposit $250 quarterly to the 
Community Treasury to be held for necessary 
expenses for obtaining the community building 
site, including but not limited to professional, 
legal, or other help. Further, this "forced savings" 
will be held in a safe interest-bearing account. 

The primary decisions of our next meeting 
will involve creating an "exit clause" for any 
active members who wish to leave the Buffalo 
Creek group, as well as a "default clause," for any 
active members who do not meet the quarterly 

"Ode" of Respects & Responsibilities: 
Community Alternatives Society 

Community Alternatives Society members, who 
live in their own apartment building in down- 
town Vancouver as well as a farm in the country- 
side, called this agreement an "ode," rather than a 
"code" of behavior, because it sounded more 
poetic and less bureaucratic. I suggest using this 
as a stimulus for your thinking when you consid- 

er the issues of any behavioral agreements your 
group makes. 

Seven Areas of Respect 

1. Respect personal boundaries, touch others 
appropriately, and refrain from violence. 
(Physical Respect) 

2. Respect other people's feelings and emotions, 
and take responsibility for my own. 
(Emotional Respect) 

3. Be honest, use respectful forms of communi- 
cation with others, hear what others are say- 
ing to me. (Verbal Respect) 

4. Respect my own and others' right to privacy, 
solitude, quiet, and security in their personal 
space, and negotiate the use of communal 
space. (Territorial Respect) 

5. Care for individual, communal, and commu- 
nity property. (Material Respect) 

6. Respect the diversity of people's age, sex, 
racial origin, sexual orientation, spiritual 
practices, and physical and mental capabili- 
ties. (Respect for Diversity) 

7. Respect the community structure and con- 
sensus decision- making process. 
(Community Respect) 

Seven Areas of Responsibility 

1. Be conscientious in my attendance of com- 
munity meetings. 

2. Take responsibility for communicating my 
ideas and feelings. 

3. Contribute time and energy to the commu- 
nity in the form of work parties and chores, 
and negotiate the duration and terms of any 
reduction in community participation that I 
may require. 

4. Serve as a contributing member of a com- 
mittee and the planning team during my 


5. Be open and conscientious regarding my 
financial responsibilities. 

6. Inform the community about guests staying 
for extended periods of time and any changes 
in my personal situation which affect the com- 
munity and/or my ability to contribute to it. 

7. Promptly inform the appropriate people 
about any violence or serious violations of 
the"R&Rs" that I witness. 

Steps Toward Conflict Resolution 

1. Direct One-to-One Communication between the 
involved parties. (If an individual feels 
unsafe, go directly to #2, below. If any indi- 
vidual witnesses or experiences a flagrant vio- 
lation, go directly to #3, below.) 

2. Hear and Clear Session(s). Each person 
involved in the conflict invites a trusted com- 
munity member to the session as their advo- 
cate and the four individuals work toward the 

3. Consultation with the "R&R" Accountability 
Committee. Advocacy/resolution groups may 
consult the committee for assistance when 
avenues #1 and #2 have not proven success- 
ful. If the involved parties are not willing to 
resolve the conflict, they will be requested by 
the committee to engage in a contract of self- 
empowerment with the community. 

4. Self-empowerment Contract. The party(s) in 
question will be given one month to submit 
in writing and present to the community a 
plan of action that outlines how that person 
will make the necessary changes in his or her 
life. The community will expect monthly 
updates and this contract will have a dura- 
tion of five months. At the end of this period 
there will be a marked improvement in the 
situation or the community will proceed to 
#5, below. 

5. Community Action Meeting. In the case of a 
serious flagrant violation the community 
may go to this step directly. In a situation 
where all other attempts at resolution have 
failed, and where the party(s) in question has 
not honored his or her Self-Empowerment 
Contract with the community, and is there- 
fore exhibiting a lack of commitment to the 
community, a Community Action Meeting 
shall be called. The involved party may 
attend this meeting but may not be involved 
in the decision making. If the rest of the com- 
munity reaches consensus, the involved party 
shall be evicted (6a) and may also have his or 
her membership in CAS revoked. 

6. Lack of Consensus. If consensus is not reached 
at the Community Action Meeting, the plan- 
ning team will meet with the person(s) who 
blocked the proposed action and the per- 
son^) who violated the Self-Empowerment 
Contract to seek a solution. 

Pet Policy, Abundant Dawn 

Abundant Dawn's Pet Policy, although unfin- 
ished, demonstrates the kind of broad and deep 
thinking community members must undertake 
when dealing with especially controversial sub- 
jects, such as pets. I suggest you use it as a start- 
ing point when considering the issues of your 
own pet policy. (Yes, you'll need one.) 

Special terms: "pod," a subcommunity or 
neighborhood within the larger community; 
"wild side," the steeper, more forested side of 
their property; "mild side," the more gentle slopes 
and pastures they intend to develop. 

This document covers our agreements 
regarding dogs, cats, and house pets. It does not 
cover our agreements regarding pasture animals, 
such as cows, whether or not they are pets. 


Pets in General: We agree to clearly state to vis- 
itors/potential members our concern about hav- 
ing pets on this land because of wildlife, noise 
pollution, quality of life standards, etc. We agree 
to write up our experiences with and discussions 
about pets so new members understand the 
"why" of our policies. 

We will have no pets on the wild side, except, 
as it is beyond our control, free-ranging cats. 

Dogs: Every pod will have 1.5 dog chips (one 
chip represents the right to have one dog). Chips 
are loanable, holdable, sellable, negotiable among 
pods. Chips cannot, however, be transferred per- 
manently, but at maximum for the life of the ani- 
mal in question. The dog chips (and thus the 
dog limits) are applicable to both indoor and 
outdoor dogs. 

There will be a membership process for all 

We will have no dogs running free on the 
property. Dogs may be walked on leash on mild 
side of land. We will have no dogs on the wild 

The community will fund a fenced dog park 
(perhaps 0.5 to 0.75 acre) within which dogs 
may run and play, with the amount of human 
supervision to be determined in future delibera- 
tion. There will be a regular fee for dog owners 
(applicable to owners of both indoor and out- 
door dogs) to pay back the expense of building 
the park, fund upkeep of the dog park and fence, 
and pay other dog-related expenses. Dog owners 
will be responsible for the labor of building the 
dog park and maintenance. 

Whole pods will not be fenced. There can be 
a fenced yard, run or pen for dog(s) within the 

Dog owners will be responsible for the care 
and control of their dogs. 

Dogs who are heavy barkers, or aggressive to 
people, cannot live here. 

Dog owners must deal with dog shit, espe- 
cially keep it off paths. 

Dogs must have rabies vaccinations. 

Dogs must be spayed/neutered. 

Noise, odor, flea and other nuisance issues 
will be addressed by the dog owner to the com- 
munity's satisfaction. Dog owners will prevent 
fleas by method of their choice. If it is not suffi- 
cient, owner will be open to feedback and to 
changing their method to a more effective one. 

Cats: Definitions. "Free- ranging" cat means an 
unconfined outdoor cat (which may also have 
access to indoor space). "Confined cat" means a 
cat which is confined in a building and/ or a yard 
with an effective cat fence. 

Every pod will have one cat chip (one chip 
represents the right to have one cat). Chips are 
loanable, holdable, sellable, negotiable among 
pods. Chips cannot, however, be transferred per- 
manently, but at maximum for the life of the ani- 
mal in question. The cat chips (and thus the cat 
limits) are applicable to free-ranging cats only. 
There is no community-level limit on confined 
cats, except insofar as there are problems with 
noise, odor, fleas, etc. 

There will be a membership process for all 
free- ranging cats. 

Free-ranging cats must have a bell to mini- 
mize the effect on wildlife. 

All cats must be spayed/ neutered. A variance 
can be applied for related to an confined cat. 

Noise, odor, flea and other nuisance issues 
will be addressed by the cat owner to the com- 
munity's satisfaction. Cat owners will prevent 
fleas by method of their choice. If it is not suffi- 
cient, owner will be open to feedback and to 
changing their method to a more effective one. 


Cats must have rabies vaccinations. 

Owners of free-ranging cats will work out 
cat-fighting issues in acceptable ways, possibly 
taking turns confining their cats. 

Future issues: Abundant Dawn is still in the 
process of agreeing on standards for pet care. 

Issues still to be decided: What is the minimum 
amount of space in which dog or cats of various 
sizes might be confined? Under what circum- 
stances might the community intervene in terms 
of suspected mistreatment or abuse? 

The community has not yet written a policy 
regarding pets other than dogs and cats. 

^Appendix 3^ 

Setting Up and Maintaining a 501 (c)3 


Creating a 501(c)3 non-profit and keeping it 
going can be time-consuming, and may not 
be worth it unless (1) your organization gener- 
ates a surplus of taxable income each year, (2) 
you want to attract tax-deductible donations, 
and/or (3) you want to apply for public or pri- 
vate grant monies. 


First, file your Articles of Incorporation with the 
state, noting your intentions to be a non-profit 
corporation, and then create your bylaws and 
other necessary documents. 

Preliminary Ruling, Final Ruling 

You must request either a preliminary or a final 
ruling as a 501(c)3. As you'll see below, a final 
ruling is more desirable. 

In order to apply for a final ruling, the IRS 
asks for (1) your budget for the current tax year, 
and (2) budgets for either three prior tax years or 
your proposed budgets for the next two years. 
This means you'll need to make a good guess as 
to your expected expenses for the next two years, 
or that you've operated for two or three years 
already, through another kind of legal entity (and 

are switching to a 501(c)3), or that you've oper- 
ated as the project of another non-profit (and 
thus can give evidence of your budgets and other 
financial data for two or three years). In order to 
seek a final ruling, OAEC submitted their budg- 
et for the then-current tax year, plus for two past 
years (during which they'd operated as a project 
of the non-profit Tides Foundation), and an esti- 
mated budget for the following year. "It definite- 
ly helps to show the IRS any previous years' 
budget activity to get a final ruling," says OAEC's 
Dave Henson. "If your group has no history of 
non-profit activity, you'll need to estimate two 
years' future budgets, and the IRS will likely take 
longer to give final approval." 

The other option is to seek a preliminary 
ruling. Whether you seek a preliminary or final 
ruling, the IRS will grant you a temporary 
50 1(c) 3 status and monitor your activities for 
three to five years. If you've applied for a prelim- 
inary ruling, after three to five years you may 
apply for a final ruling, basing the required 
budget and other data on your first years of 
operation. If, after examining your organization's 
posters, flyers, brochures, and letters, the IRS 
considers most of your activities in that period 



to be related to your purpose, they'll grant you a 
final 50 1(c) 3 ruling and will stop scrutinizing 
you so closely. If the IRS determines that most 
of your activities are not related to your purpose, 
and thus not really non-profit activities, they can 
delay your organization's final 501(c)3 status 
and continue close examination of your activi- 
ties until you can show that you're actually doing 
what you said you would. 

If this happens, and the IRS doesn't grant a 
final ruling after three to five years, it affects 
your organization retroactively, since everything 
you were doing was based on the assumption 
that you'd receive that final 50 1(c) 3 status. This 
means anyone who gave you a tax-deductible 
donation during that period must now pay taxes 
on it, because donations to your organization 
during that time are no longer tax-deductible. 
Thus, it's hard to get grants until you have a 
final ruling. 

For this reason, experienced non-profit 
activists strongly suggest you make your mission 
statement as broad and general as possible when 
you first apply for non-profit status. If sometime 
later you decide to do different activities than 
you originally envisioned, the wording of your 
mission statement can be interpreted to include 
the new activities and you don't endanger your 
non-profit status. 

However, you may want to apply for a final 
ruling right away, if you have a history of activity 
and can give four years of information on your 
budget and activities (the previous two years, 
and estimates for the current year and the fol- 
lowing year). OAEC applied for a final ruling in 
their initial IRS application. For two years they'd 
been a project of the non-profit Tides 
Foundation, so they could estimate their future 
budgets reasonably well, and they had a history 
of activity. They got their final ruling much 

sooner than they could have if they had request- 
ed their preliminary ruling first, making it easier 
to seek grants in their first few years. 

Related and Unrelated Business Activity 

Probably ninety percent of all 50 1(c) 3 non-prof- 
its receive no other income aside from grants 
and donations. But some engage in business 
activities, such as running a conference center, 
for example, which generates an income. If a 
50 1(c) 3 were set up to run a conference center 
for a particular kind of educational activity, 
which was so stated in its Articles of 
Incorporation, the IRS would consider all 
income from the conference center as related to 
the 501(c)3 non-profit's purpose. 

As noted earlier, any income from activities 
not related to the 501(c)3's purpose (called 
"unrelated" activities), is taxable. No more than 
50 percent of a 50 1(c) 3 non-profit's income can 
be unrelated; most must be derived from activi- 
ties related to your purpose, as stated in your 
Articles of Incorporation. If the IRS discovers 
that more than 50 percent of your income-pro- 
ducing activities seem unrelated to your purpose, 
they can rescind your 50 1(c) 3 status. Also, to 
maintain your 501(c)3 status, no more than 20 
percent of your income can be from "passive" 
sources such as rents, lease fees, and interest on 
loans or investments. 

"Disinterested" Board Members 

As mentioned earlier, at least 51 percent of 
your board members must be "disinterested." If 
you use a voting membership to elect your 
board, 51 percent of the voting members must 
also be disinterested. The IRS will watch this 
closely for the first three years of your non- 
profit's existence. 


The "Public Support Test" 

Every year you must pass the "public support 
test" by demonstrating to the IRS that at least 
one-third of your financial support comes from 
the public, through the sale of goods and servic- 
es, membership fees, and/or donations. 

Other Tax Exemptions 

You must apply separately for tax-exempt status 
at your state, country, and/or city level. 


My website,, 
offers a great many resources (including 
more specific ones) for every topic covered in 
these chapters, including a comprehensive list of 
consultants experienced in working with form- 
ing community groups. The site also features 
schedules for upcoming workshops and public 
talks about forming new ecovillages and inten- 
tional communities, information on how a group 
can schedule a workshop. What follows is a list 
of some of the best resources from the site. 

Books and Magazines 

Communities Directory: A Guide to Intentional 

Communities and Cooperative Living, Fellowship 
for Intentional Community (2000). 
Information on over 600 communities in 
North America — where they are, what 
they're doing, how to contact them, maps, 
comparison charts, articles about community 
living. Website <> 

Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing 
Ourselves, Kathryn McCamant, Charles 
Durrett, and Ellen Hertzman, Ten Speed 
Press, Second Edition (1998). The book that 
introduced cohousing to North America. 
Website <> 

Communities magazine, Fellowship for Intentional 
Community. Articles from experienced com- 
munitarians on various aspects of community 
living — raising children in community, 
growing older in community, conflict and 

process, effective meetings, decision-making 
— covering the wide range of communities 
in North America from ecovillages to 
cohousing, plus updates of Communities 
Directory listings. Website <> 

"A Pattern Language for Villages," in A Pattern 
Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, 
Christopher Alexander, et. al., Oxford 
University Press (1976). 

The Cohousing Handbook: Building a Place for 

Community, Chris ScottHanson, Hartley & 
Marks (1996). Practical advice and step-by- 
step processes for forming a core group and 
developing and building cohousing commu- 
nities. Much of it, especially in the first half, 
is useful for founders of non-cohousing com- 
munities as well. 

Website <> 

Great Meetings! How to Facilitate Like a Pro, Dee 

Kelsey and Pam Plumb, Hanson Park Press 
(2001). Basic of meeting facilitation, the facil- 
itator's role and skills, preparing for and 
designing a meeting, problem-solving 
approaches and tools, positive communica- 
tion skills and conflict management, dealing 
with challenging situations, and tips for 
beginning facilitators. 

Introduction to Consensus, Bea Briggs, Self-published 
(2000). This is the book I recommend most 
to forming community groups because of its 
clear, straightforward format. 



On Conflict and Consensus: A Handbook on Formal 
Consensus Decision-making, C.T. Butler and 
Amy Rothstein, Food Not Bombs Publishing 
(1991). A political activist and consensus 
trainer, C.T. Butler developed the Formal 
Consensus process as a more structured 
method than other consensus processes and 
the "principled objection" test for blocks to a 
proposal — the block must be based in the 
vision or values of the group. 
E-mail <> and 
Website <> 

Facilitator's Guide to Participatory Decision-Making, 

Sam Kaner with Lenny Lind, Duane Berger, 
Catherine Toldi and Sarah Fisk, New Society 
Publishers (1996). Provides the tools to put 
democratic values into practice in groups and 
organizations, increasing participation and 
collaberation, promoting mutual understand- 
ing, honoring diversity, and making effective, 
inclusive, participatory decisions. 
Website <> 

Getting Real: 10 Truth Skills You Need to Live an 

Authentic Life, Susan Campbell, New World 
Library (2001). One of the best guides I 
know of to the communication approach 
which, like nonviolent communication, works 
well in the "rock polisher" of community — 
telling the truth and being transparent. 
Website <> 

Introduction to Permaculture, Bill Mollison and Reny 
Mia Slay. Permaculture basics: how to feed 
and house yourself in any climate the least 
use of land; energy; and repetitive labor. 

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion, 
Marshall Rosenberg, PuddleDancer Press 
(1998). Nonviolent communication (NVC) 
is one of the most powerful, and effective 
tools to create a sense of connection between 
people, turn conflict into an experience of 
mutual understanding, and reduce the fre- 
quency and intensity of future conflict situa- 

tions. Website <> 

The Mediator's Handbook, Jennifer E. Beer and 

Eileen Stief New Society Publishers, Revised 
and Expanded 3rd Edition (1997). Overview 
of conflict and mediation, a step-by-step 
mediation process, skills and approaches for 
the three main mediation tasks — support- 
ing the people, controlling the process, and 
solving the problem. 
Website <> 

Nolo Press. Practical, plain-language information 
and advice to help people in the United 
States set up their own legal entities and 
solve their own legal problems with confi- 
dence, and whenever possible, with minimal 
need for a lawyer. Books, CDs, legal forms, 
corporation kits, downloadable data, and 
legal information online. See especially Nolo 
Press books: Form your Own Limited Liability 
Company; Incorporate Your Business; A 50-State 
Legal Guide to Forming a Corporation; How to 
Form a Non-profit Corporation; and How to 
Write a Business Plan. 
Website <> 

Permaculture Activist. Quarterly publication serving 
the permaculture movement in North 
America with useful, practical information 
about permaculture projects "on the ground." 
Website <> 

Self-Counsel Press. Similar to Nolo Press, but for 
a Canadian readership. 
Website <> 

Organizations and Associations 

Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC). 

Membership organization serves intentional 
communities and community seekers in 
North America with information and net- 
working. Publishes Communities magazine, 
Visions of Utopia video, the Communities 
Directory, and more. Website <> 


Northwest Intentional Communities Association 

(NICA). Network of intentional communi- 
ties in the Pacific Northwest that provides 
information and mutual support, and hosts 
regional gatherings. 
Website < nica> 

Global Ecovillage Network (GEN). Supports and 
encourages the evolution of sustainable set- 
tlements worldwide with information and 
networking. Website <> 
Also GEN Europe and Africa 
and GEN Oceania and Asia 

Ecovillage Network of the Americas, The GEN organ- 
ization for South, Central, and North 
America. Website <> 

The Cohousing Network. Promotes and encourages 
cohousing communities in North America 
through networking and information. 
Quarterly e-mail newsletter; biannual mailed 
newsletter. Much of their information can be 
adapted to fit non-cohousing communities. 
Website <> 

Canadian Cohousing Network. Promotes cohousing 
communities in Canada through public edu- 
cation and networking. 
Website <> 

Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC). Support 
network for North American intentional 
communities that value income-sharing, non- 
violence, participatory decision making, and 
ecological practices. 
Website <> 

Community Associations Institute. Provides informa- 
tion and advice to community associations 
(homeowners associations, condominium 
associations, and housing cooperatives) 
through books and booklets, courses, and 
certification programs. 
Website <> 

National Association of Housing Cooperatives. Offers 
technical assistance and training to founders 
and board members of housing co-ops. 
Website <> 

Institute for Community Economics. The organization 
that developed community land trusts in 
1967. Offers information and assistance for 
creating community land trusts through con- 
sultation, books, and a revolving loan fund. 
Website <> 

E.F. Schumacher Society. Information, book publish- 
ing, workshops, and consulting on local eco- 
nomic self-reliance, through community land 
trusts/shoe box banks," microlending, local 
currencies, and community supported agri- 
culture farms. 

Website <> 


Author's website. More resources for ecovillage and 
community founders: addditional informa- 
tion on zoning, communication skills, and 
other relevant topics; additional community 
success stories and cautionary tales; down- 
loadable Sucessful Ecovillage Assessment 
Tool; updates on profiled communities; 
author's workshop schedule. 
Website <> 

Community Bookshelf. Mail-order books on inten- 
tional community living, ecovillages, cohous- 
ing, consensus decision-making, effective 
meetings, conflict resolution, and sustainable 
living. Website <> 

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). EFT is the 

fastest, cheapest, most effective and painless 
self-therapy I've seen yet, and is ideal for 
helping individual community members 
transform attitudes or behaviors that can dis- 
empower the individual and the group. 
Website <> 


Videos, Workshops, and Other 

Visions of Utopia: Experiments in Sustainable Culture 
[video; 90 min.], Geoph Kozeny, Fellowship 
for Intentional Community (2002). Profiles 
seven diverse communities, explores the "glue" 
that holds communities together, offers can- 
did assessments from community members 
of what works and what doesn't work. 
Available online <> 

Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow an 
Ecovillage or Intentional Community. Three-day 
workshop with Creating a Life Together author 
Diana Leafe Christian at Earthaven 

E-mail <> 

Creating a Land-Based Intentional Community, 

Weekend and five-day courses with Dave 
Henson and Adam Wolpert at Sowing 
Circle/OAEC. Website <> 

Culture's Edge Workshops at Earthaven. Workshops 
and community internships in permaculture 
design, natural building, water catchment, 
constructed wetlands, and forming new 
intentional communities or ecovillages. 
E-mail <> 
Website <> 

Ecovillage Training Center. Workshops and commu- 
nity apprenticeships in ecovillage design, 
renewable energy, environmental building, 
sustainable agriculture, biological wastewater 
systems, and permaculture design at The 
Farm community in Tennessee. 
Website <> 

Living Routes — Ecovillage Educational Consortium, 
Organization hosts live-in educational expe- 
riences at ecovillages in Europe, India, and 
the US for college credit. 
Website <> 

Lost Valley Educational Center. Workshops and com- 
munity apprenticeship programs in perma- 
culture design, natural building, and organic 
gardening. Website <> 

Occidental Arts and Ecology Center. Workshops and 
community apprenticeships in permaculture 
design, natural building, and forming land- 
based intentional communities. 
Website <> 

Sirius Community Educational Programs. Workshops 
and community apprenticeships in perma- 
culture design, natural building, and organic 

Website <> 

Communities Profiled in this Book 

Abundant Dawn 


Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage 


Earthaven Ecovillage 


Lost Valley Educational Center 

Mariposa Grove 




Sowing Circle OAEC 



Abundant Dawn (VA) 

agreements, 44, 72-7 '4 

buy-in fee, 159, 162 

departing members equity, 167 

feedback sessions, 212-213 

income and expenses, 153, 159 

internal finances chart, 160-161 

labor requirements, 166 

land cost, 9-10, 131 

membership, 11 

non-profit status, 185-188, 197 

sample pet policy, 74, 235-237 

sample vision document, 231-232 
accountability of members 

and consequences, 215-217 

sample agreement, 216 

task review, 27, 214-215 
agreements and policies, see also vision documents 

behavioral policies, 72, 216 

communication agreements, 202-203 

conflict resolution policy, 213-214, 235 

drafting documents, guides to, 77-78 

need for policy manual, 180 

sample agreements, 233-237 

sample pet policy, 74, 235-237 

types of, 71-72 

written agreements, 8, 68-71 
Allison, Patricia, 65 
Alstad, Diana, 55 

anti-business attitudes, 12, 28, 70, 75 


Baker, Harvey, 221 

Bane, Peter (Earthaven), 142 

banks and lending institutions 

borrowing power, 104-105 

financing, 132-136 
Barrett, David, 148 
Borie, Lysbeth, 62 
Brause, Dianne (Lost Valley), 3, 17 
Bressen, Tree, 36, 62 
Briggs, Bea, 57, 61, 65 
Brown, Stephen (Shenoa), 39, 44, 120 
budget, see financial planning 
building codes, 81, 111, 116-117 
Butchart, Ted, 146, 150 
Butler, C.T., 64, 65 
buy-in fee 

alternatives, 30-31 

examples, 88-89, 159-160, 162-163 


Charamellajohn, 168-169 

closeness of community, 22, 33, 148-149 


and condominium associations, 182-183 

definition, xvii, 20-21 

design, 31, 99, 149 

experience of, 12-13 

financial planning, 136-139 

and homeowner associations, 178-179 

lack of membership control, 173, 182-183 

legal entity options, 184 

neighborhood support, 123-124 

remodeling examples, 101 
The Cohousing Handbook (Hanson), 126 
common-treasury religious communities, 196-198 
communication and process, see also conflict resolution 

completing tasks, 27, 214-217 

emotional needs, 203-206 



exercises in, 47-52 

feedback, 210-213 

nourishing relationships, 8, 202-203 

thought field therapy, 212 
Community Alternatives Society (BC), 72, 216 
community design 

initial decisions, 7-9, 20-29 

legal barriers, 80-82 
community-owned business 

co-ops, 156, 158-159 

need for legal entity, 75-76 

use of 501(d) status, 197 

viability, 155-157 
community spirit, 28-29, 33-34, 202-203 
composting toilets, 81-82 
condominium associations, 178, 182-183 
conflict resolution 

behaviors and attitudes, 204, 206-207 

in close communities, 201-202 

communication skills, 202-203 

conflicting visions example, 40-41 

difficult or wounded people, 203-206, 221-223 

exercises in, 47-52 

feedback, 210-213 

hidden expectations, 45-47, 51-52 

sample community policy, 213-214, 235 

setting consequences, 214-217 

sources of conflict, 207-210 

training, 200-201 
consensus decision-making 

attitude of banks, 133 

facilitator, 57-58, 60 

formal consensus, 64, 65 

making it work, 58-60 

process, 56-58, 64 

"pseudoconsensus", 60-62 

sunset clause, 62 

training, 58, 65-66 
contracts, time pressure to sign, 107 
co-ops. see housing co-ops 
cost, see financial planning 
Cottonwood Springs (MT), 68-69 
Covey, Stephen, 124 
credit rating, 105, 127, 135 
Cultural Creatives (Ray), 82 
currency systems, internal, 166 


Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage (MO) 

departing members equity, 167, 191 
fees, 164 

financing, 30, 85-86 

finding land, 10, 80, 82-86 

food co-op, 158-159 

income and expenses, 154, 159 

internal finances chart, 160-161 

membership, 11, 87, 140 

non-profit status, 189, 194-195, 197 

vision documents, 40 
Davidson, Gordon (Sirius), 36 
decision-making and governance 

combining methods, 63-66 

consensus, 56-62, 64, 65-66, 133 

by council and committees, 63 

effect of financing choices, 140 

majority-rule voting, 56, 57-58, 62 

at meetings, 25, 27, 45 

multi-winner voting, 62-63, 65 

need for policy manual, 180 

power relationships, 55-56, 78, 206-207 

process, 7-8, 50-51, 56 
DeLapa, Paul, 59, 212 
Didcoct, Betty, 53, 59, 64 


Earthaven Ecovillage (NC) 

buy-in options, 30, 159 

decision-making with committees, 63 

departing members equity, 167 

financing, 30, 89-91, 139-140 

finding land, 10, 86-89 

and homeowner associations, 179-180 

income and expenses, 153-154, 158 

internal finances chart, 162-163 

labor requirements, 166 

membership, 11, 87, 140, 224-225 

non-profit status, 189 

sample vision documents, 39, 231 

site lease fees, 164-165 

site planning, 101, 142-146, 150-151 
EarthShares fund, 14, 90-91 
ecovillage, definition, xvi, 143 
Ecovillage (NY), 83 

Ecovillages and Sustainable Communities (Gilman), 43, 

Elixir Farm (MO), 71 

Environmental Impact Report, 120 

equity of departing members, 167-168, 191-192 

INDEX 247 

Estes, Caroline, 57, 60 
expectations, 45-47, 51-52, 217 


failure of communities 

conflict, 218-219, 224-226 

conflicting visions, 35-36, 40-41 

hidden expectations, 45-47, 51-52, 217 

need for written agreements, 68-69 

reasons for, 6-7, 207-210 

and zoning issues, 114-116, 122-123 
Farallones Institute, 93-94 
The Farm (TN), 124, 155 
Federal Fair Housing Act (US), 173, 180, 185 
Federation of Egalitarian Communities' (FEC), 85 
financial planning, see also internal finances; owner 
ship, options 

borrowing power, 104-105, 127 

business plans, 8-9, 96-97 

buy-in fee alternatives, 30-31 

buy-in fee examples, 88-89, 159-160, 162-163 

contingency fund, 128 

credit rating, 105, 127, 135 

determining assets, 29-30, 104 

examples, 85-98 

fundraising, 31-32 

loans, 104-105, 126-136 

need for legal entity, 75-76 

owner financing, 131 

owner-financing examples, 88-89, 94, 96-97 

private loan, 90-91, 129 

record keeping, 27 

refinancing, 90-91, 139-141 

total cost, 9-10, 26, 128 
Fleming, Bill (Westwood Cohousing), 17, 28 
food co-op, 158-159 
founders, traits, 8-9, 15-18 
Full Circle (NC), 88 
fundraising, 31-32 


Gilman, Dianne, 43, 44 

Gilman, Robert, 43, 44, 143 

Goldschmidt, Carolyn, 180, 184 

grants and donations, 139 

Greene, Patricia, 18, 168-169 

Greyrock Commons Cohousing (CO), 123-124 

The Guru Papers (Kramer and Alstad), 55 


Haggard, Ben, 147 

Hamilton, James (Stone Curves), 121 

Hanson, Chris, 126 

Harmony Village Cohousing, 39 

health and safety standards, 81-82, 110-111, 120 

Henson, Dave (Sowing Circle/OAEC), 170, 212 

land purchase, 95-97, 102 

role as founder, 15, 16, 78 
homeowners associations, 178-182 
housing arrangements, 163-164 
housing co-ops, 92, 132, 178, 183-185 
How to Form a Non-profit Corporation, 190 


idealism, unrealistic expectations, 217 
income and expenses, see internal finances 
intentional communities, xvi-xviii 
internal finances, see also financial planning 

buy-in fee, 30-31, 88-89, 159-160, 162-163 
community-owned business, 155-159 
departing members equity, 167-168, 191-192 
housing arrangements, 163-164 
income and expenses, 152-155, 159 
joining members and equity, 168-169, 172 
labor requirements, 165-167 
lease or rental agreements, 164-165 
and legal entity status, 173 
sample communities chart, 160-163 
Introduction to Consensus (Briggs), 65 


joining fee 

alternatives, 30-31 

examples, 88-89, 159-160, 162-163 
joint tenancy, 187 


Kahn, Velma (Abundant Dawn), 78, 79 
Kann, Elana (Westwood Cohousing), 17 
Kaplowitz, Larry, 200, 202, 203-204, 205 
Kingsbery, Stuart, 181 
Kinkade, Kat (Twin Oaks), 36 
Kozeny, Geoph, 33, 214 
Kramer, Joel, 55 


labor requirements, 165-167 



land, buying, see also financial planning 

appraisal, 127 

buildings, condition of, 111 

contacting landowners, 84, 108-109 

developed land, 101-103, 172 

examples of, 85-98 

initial decisions, 7-9, 22-23, 103 

land trusts, 194-196 

and losing members, 87 

making an offer, 112-113, 127, 131 

need for legal entity, 75-76 

preliminary feasibility study, 109-112, 137 

raw land, 100-101, 104, 171-172 

real estate agents, 93, 105-106 

researching land values, 107-108 

site criteria, 22, 25, 84, 88, 95, 99-103 

site planning, 142-151 

and sustainable development, 80-82 
land trusts, 194-196 
leadership, see founders 
legal advice 

choosing a lawyer, 77-79 

and making an offer, 107, 131 

and zoning issues, 119 
legal entity status, see also financial planning 

advantages of, 75-76 

condominium associations, 178, 182-183 
corporations/non-profit corporations, 174-175 
criteria for choosing, 76, 170-171 
homeowners associations, 178-182 
housing co-ops, 92, 132, 178, 183-185 
and internal finances, 173 
joint tenancy, 187 
legal advice, 76-79 

Limited Liability Company (LLC), 173, 176- 

and membership control, 180, 185, 191, 194 
non-profit status, 175-176, 185-198 
partnerships, 177 

subchapter S corporations, 175, 177 

tax issues, 76, 174, 175, 179 

tenancy in common, 187 
legal protection, 90, 107, 174-175 
Limited Liability Company (LLC), 173, 176-178 

banks, 104-105, 132-136 
owner financing, 131 

owner financing examples, 88-89, 94, 96-97 
personal loans, 129-131 
private, 90-91, 129 

property appraisal, 127 

refinancing, 90-91, 139-141 

repayment example, 85-86 

tips for borrowing money, 126-128 
Lore, Virginia (Dumawish), 19 
Lost Valley Educational Center (OR) 

buy-in fee, 159 

departing members equity, 167, 191-192 

financing, 2-4, 10, 141 

former use permit issue, 118-119 

income and expenses, 154, 158, 159 

internal finances chart, 162-163 

labor requirements, 165 

membership, 11, 140, 200-201, 217 

non-profit status, 189 

sample vision document, 230-231 


Mahaffey, Kenneth (Lost Valley), 3, 16 
majority-rule voting, 56, 57-58, 62 
Mariposa Grove (CA) 

financing, 30, 91-92 

membership, 10, 11 
Marsh, Chuck (Earthaven), 88, 142, 147, 149, 151 
McCamant, Kathryn, 148 
McKenny, Vinnie (Elixir), 71 
McLaughlin, Corrine (Sirius), 36 
Meadowdance Community (VT) 

decision not to buy, 5, 114-116 

departing members equity, 167-168 

income-sharing, 157-158, 198 

internal finances chart, 162-163 

labor requirements, 166 

membership, 11, 225 

vision statement, 39 
media coverage, 125 

facilitator, 25, 60, 202 

feedback, 28, 203, 212-213 

planning, 24-25, 59-60 

and visitors, 32-33 
members, new 

advertising for, 32, 219-220 

to established communities, 168-169, 172-173 

integrating, 32-33, 224-225, 228 

interns, 167 

and vision documents, 22-23 
members, selection of 

decision-making, 223-224 

difficult or wounded people, 221-223 

INDEX 249 

past behavior, 226-228 

questionnaires and interviews, 226-227 

screening process, 8, 27, 219-221, 223-228 

setting standards, 221, 228 

changes to, 34, 44-45, 87 

control of, 173, 182-183, 191, 194 

criteria, 8, 27, 219-221 

decision-making status, 45 

fees, 27, 31 

group size, 10-11 
Miccosukee Land Co-op (FL), 183 
Moench, Tom (Winslow), 148 
Morningstar Ranch, 117 


Naiman, Valerie (Earthaven), 14-15, 16, 88-90 

Naka-Ima training, 200-201 

name, choosing a, 3 1 

Nature's Spirit (SC), 38, 192 


good relations, 4, 95, 124 

and land purchase, 111-112 

and zoning variances, 15, 110, 122-125 
non-negotiables, 49-50 
non-profit status 

and income-sharing, 157-158 

and legal advise, 77-78 

need for legal entity, 75-76 

non-exempt non-profit, 176, 179, 185-188 

and taxation, 179 

tax-exempt non-profit, 175-176, 189-198, 238- 

Nyland Cohousing (CO), 178-179 


Obermeyer, Hank (Mariposa), 91-92 

"offer to purchase", 112-113 

On Consensus and Conflict (Butler), 65 

"option to purchase", 112-113 

Owner's Disclosure Statement, 109 

ownership, options 

condominium associations, 178, 182-183 
examples, 157-158 
and financing, 22, 30, 140 
homeowners associations, 178-182 
housing co-ops, 92, 132, 178, 183-185 
joint tenancy, 187 

and legal entity status, 75-76, 171-172 

Limited Liability Company (LLC), 173, 176- 

non-profit status, 175-176, 185-198 
sole ownership, 23-24, 91-92, 129-131 
tenancy in common, 187 
ownership, sole, 129 

and inequality, 23-24 
Mariposa Grove example, 91-92 
use of Triple Net Lease, 130-131 


Paiss, Zev, 12, 46, 49, 50 

A Pattern Language (Alexander), 150 

permaculture, 143, 146, 147 

permits, see zoning issues 

Pioneer Valley Cohousing (MA), 182-183 

policies, see agreements and policies 

power relationships 

awareness of, 55-56, 78 

behaviors and attitudes, 206-207 

and consensus method, 59 
prejudice, dealing with, 104, 106, 124-125 
preliminary feasibility study, 109-112, 137 
press release, 125 
promissory note, 129 
property, see land, buying 


Ray, Paul, 82 

real estate agents, 93, 105-106 
real estate market, see land, buying 
Reid, Luc (Meadowdance), 15, 114-116 
revenue, see internal finances 
roads issues, 109-110, 120 
Rosy Branch (NC), 88 


sales contract form, 112-113 
Sandelin, Rob, 50, 53, 59, 62, 202 
Sandhill Farm (MO), 83, 155 
Schaub, Laird, 204 

Scheib, Cecil (Dancing Rabbit), 14-15, 80 
ScottHanson, Chris, 139 
septic systems, 82, 110-111, 120 
Sharingwood Cohousing (WA), 182 

"budget party", 62-63 

zoning negotiation, 121 
Shenoa Retreat and Conference Center (CA), 39, 42 
Shenoa Retreat and Learning Center, 39 


Sirna, Tony (Dancing Rabbit), 14-15 
site criteria 

developed land, 101-103, 172 

examples, 84, 88, 95 

property or housing, 22, 25, 99-100 

raw land, 100-101, 104, 171-172 
site-lease/assessment fees, 160, 162, 164-165 
site planning 

cluster housing, 147-149 

Earthaven example, 142-146, 150-151 

permaculture design, 143, 146, 147 

your community building, 150 
Sonora Cohousing (AZ), 179 

Sowing Circle/Occidental Arts and Ecology Center 
(CA) ^ 

buy-in options, 30, 162-163 

chore wheel, 166-167 

conflict resolution, 27, 43-44, 213-214 

consensus statement, 56 

departing members equity, 167 

financing, 5, 10, 92-97, 141, 176 

former use permit issue, 118 

general principles statement, 26 

income and expenses, 153, 159 

internal finances chart, 160-161 

membership, 11, 87 

non-profit status, 189, 192-193 

organic easement, 196 
spiritual communities, 12 
start up. see community design 
Steiner, Rudolf, 33 

sustainable development, barriers, 80-82 


tax-exempt non-profit status 

501(c)3 model set up, 238-240 

501(d) status, 196-198 

and land trusts, 194-196 

overview, 175-176, 189-192 

and ownership of land, 192-194 
tax issues 

legal entity status, 76, 174 

and non-profit status, 179 

terms, 175 
tenancy in common, 187 

"a group of families", 104, 106 

dealing with prejudice, 124-125 
timeline, setting goals, 26, 28-29 

consensus, 58, 61-62, 65 

hiring expertise, 9 
Twin Oaks (VA), 196-198 


utilities, 110 

values, exploring, 47-53 
vision documents 

drafting, 53-54 

elements of, 37-38 

and fundraising, 31-32 

general principles, 7, 25-26, 36 

hidden expectations, 45-47, 51-52 

process of creating, 42-45, 47-53 

vision statements, 38-41 
visitors/interns, 32-33, 167 
Vogel, Paul Ekrem, 181 


water issues, 81, 109, 120 

Watzke, Bob, 107, 112 

website, your community, 32 

websites, research, 20, 177 

Wilson, Roberta (Winslow Cohousing), 12 

Winslow Cohousing (WA), 12-13 

Wolpert, Adam (Sowing Circle/OAEC), 34, 36, 37 


zoning issues 

decision not to buy, 5, 114-116 
former use permits, 118-119 
General Plan, 110, 116 
housing density, 116-117 
and neighbors, 15, 110, 122-125 
subdividing, 120 

and sustainable development, 81-82, 109, 116 

variance or permit, 119-122 
Zucker, Irwin Wolfe, 219, 226 
Zuni Mountain Sanctuary (NM), 147 

About the Author 

Since 1993 Diana Leafe Christian has been edi- 
tor of Communities magazine, a quarterly publica- 
tion about intentional communities in North 
America. She has been interviewed by NPR and 
the BBC about intentional communities and 
contributed a chapter on forming new commu- 
nities to Creating Harmony (Gaia Trust, 1999). 
Her articles on ecovillages, financial and legal 
aspects of communities, children in communi- 
ty, and communication and group process 
issues in community have appeared in publica- 
tions ranging from Mother Earth News to 

Communities magazine, the Communities Directory, 
and Canada's This Magazine. 

Diana leads workshops for forming- commu- 
nity groups and educational centers nationwide 
and at communities conferences, on the practical 
steps to create ecovillages and intentional com- 
munities, including the land-purchase, zoning, 
and legal stages of these projects. 

She lives at Earthaven Ecovillage in North 
Carolina, one of the "successful 10 percent" com- 
munities she began researching for this book. 


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